Chinese activist Chen Guangcheng says his family is being hounded by local authorities in Shandong, his home province, with his brother and sister-in-law placed under house arrest and his nephew detained.
Chen's flight last month from house arrest and his request for refuge from U.S. diplomats has caused considerable embarrassment for Chinese authorities and threatened to damage U.S.-Sino relations. Since then, Beijing has agreed in a face-saving move to allow the blind, self-taught legal activist and his immediate family to study in the United States.
In an interview from a hospital where he's being treated for injuries suffered during his escape from a guarded farm house, Chen told The Guardian newspaper that he was worried about his family's safety.
"The crazy retaliation against my family has started," he said by telephone. "My sister-in-law was arrested and is now released on bail. They have accused her of harboring a fugitive, but they didn't say who."
His 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, The Associated Press reports. Chen told the AP that police in his hometown are searching for the nephew's wife and have threatened to detain his mother.
In The Guardian:
Chen said he still expected to move to the U.S. but was unsure when. He is receiving treatment in Chaoyang hospital for an intestinal infection and is in plaster after he broke his foot during his escape.
The Chinese foreign ministry said it would accept his application to travel overseas, but Chen said he had not yet received a response from them about his application.
Chen has been offered fellowships by New York University and the University of Washington. It is thought he will study law, but he may first need a language primer. Chen said he can manage conversational English, which he taught himself many years ago.
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, according to the AP.
"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."