China restricts activist's family

2012-05-11 14:00
Beijing - Authorities in the hometown of blind activist Chen Guangcheng have notched up restrictions on members of his extended family while he awaits permission in Beijing to travel abroad under an agreement between China and the US.

Chen Guangcheng's brother and sister-in-law have been placed under house arrest, his nephew is in police detention, and several other relatives face some form of restriction on their movements in their village in Shandong province, according to Chen, his lawyers and a rights group.

Chen's flight from abusive house arrest in Shandong and into the protection of US diplomats - which led to an agreement with Beijing to let him study in the US accompanied by his wife and children - has exposed the impunity of local officials and embarrassed the central government.

"I feel that Shandong's retribution against me has already started," Chen said in an interview on Thursday from a hospital where he is being treated for injuries suffered during his dramatic escape from his guarded farm house.

The US said it was concerned about reports of reprisals against Chen's family. State Department spokesperson Victoria Nuland told reporters on Thursday that the US made inquiries with China and "expressed our concern should there be any sense of reprisal".

Chen's nephew, Chen Kegui, is believed to have been detained in relation to a clash he had with officials who reportedly broke into his home after discovering that the activist had escaped in late April.

Dozen under restriction

The nephew's arrest notification allegedly says he is suspected of attempted "intentional homicide", said Liu Weiguo, a lawyer who volunteered to defend Kegui but has yet to see the notification document himself. Liu said at least one local communist party official was injured in the 26 April fight but no one died.

Local Shandong police in the city and county overseeing Chen's village said they weren't aware of the situation with Chen's family. Local communist party publicity officials could not be reached.

Police in the activist's town are searching for the nephew's wife and have threatened to detain his mother, Chen Guangcheng said.

"I hope that this issue gets some attention and that lawyers are able to meet the family and have the case entrusted to them," he said. "They won't let the lawyers enter the village and won't let them interact with the family. In turn, they are taking revenge on my family like this. It is simply too outrageous."

The Chinese Human Rights Defenders, a network of activists in China, said around a dozen of Chen's relatives in the village of Dongshigu are under some form of house arrest, including Chen's cousin and the cousin's son.

"Even when the international spotlight is on Chen, his extended family has been cut off from communicating with the outside world, and his nephew is in police custody," said Wang Songlian, a researcher with the group. "What is going to happen once the spotlight shifts? It is extremely worrying."

Officials angered

A self-taught legal activist, Chen gained recognition among human rights campaigners at China and abroad for crusading for the disabled and fighting against forced abortions in his rural community.

But he angered local officials in Shandong, where he was convicted in 2006 on what his supporters say were fabricated charges and served four years in prison. He then faced an abusive and illegal house arrest.

His dramatic flight to the US Embassy in Beijing last month triggered a diplomatic standoff that was resolved with an agreement between the two governments for Chen to travel to the US to study.

Read more on:    chen guangcheng  |  china

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