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In Fear Of His Life, Chen Guangcheng's Nephew Flees
2012-04-30 14:00:04 (230 weeks ago)
Posted By: Intellpuke

Four days after the blind activist Chen Guangcheng made his audacious bid for freedom, dropping over a wall under cover of darkness and limping away on an injured leg, his nephew also made a desperate escape through fields of peanut and sweet potato plants.

Friends say the older man reached the safety of the U.S. Embassy in Beijing, but when last heard from on Sunday night, his nephew, Chen Kegui, was on the run – penniless, frightened, struggling for breath and hiding from a black car he feared was following him.

The 33-year-old's flight is the most potent reminder that his uncle's incredible escape from 19 months of house arrest has come at a bitter cost.

On Monday, the European Union urged China to avoid harassing the activist's family and associates. But many are already in the hands of furious officials; Chen Kegui fled after lashing out with a knife at men who had broken into his home and detained his father. Shortly afterwards, two police officers marched his mother away from the hospital where she was caring for his sick child. Chen Kegui's wife is now too frightened to reveal her location.

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"She's afraid she will be next and the whole family will be taken away. She's terrified," said lawyer Liu Weiguo, whom she hired before she left.

The family lived just a few hundred meters away from Chen Guangcheng, in the village of Dongshigu in eastern Shandong province. But the family members had not seen each other for more than a year thanks to the state of siege in which the activist lived following his release from jail in 2010.

His wife, Yuan Weijing, their six-year-old daughter and his mother are thought to remain under the watch of up to 100 hired guards – armed with hi-tech surveillance and phone-jamming equipment – who have beaten, threatened or harassed supporters, journalists and even diplomats trying to visit. They are said to have broken Yuan's bones in one beating last year.

On Monday, only two men stood by the roadside as reporters approached. But within moments two more had emerged to block the path; and one knocked on the window of a parked van to summon sleepy reinforcements. The leader, a burly man in a badly fitting brown suit jacket, quickly made a phone call.

"We are afraid of thieves. We don't want anything stolen," he said, when asked why visitors could not enter, pushing us back towards the highway.

Asked whether Chen's family were still in the village, he insisted he did not know.

"Go! Go!" said a bespectacled man in camouflage, pointing towards the road.

As we drove away, the leader of the group snapped our number plate with his phone. A silver car tailed us out of the area.

Two more of Chen Guangcheng's relatives from Dongshigu – his cousin and his cousin's son – have also been detained, say human rights activists. Two supporters, one of whom drove him away from the area, have also been held. Police have so far declined to comment.

Perhaps the most immediate cause for concern is Chen Kegui. Hours after the incident he told blogger Cao Yaxue that a group of men – armed with wooden clubs and led by a local official – had broken in at around midnight on Thursday after realizing his uncle had escaped.

Sobbing as he spoke, Chen Kegui described how he had grabbed kitchen knives to use for self-defense and slashed at the intruders as they tried to grab him. It is unclear how badly the men were injured.

"In China, law is trampled over at will. I love my motherland, but this is what she gives me," he told Cao.

"Chen Guangcheng is innocent. But they forced a charge on him. My father is getting old, couldn't walk, and where did they take him? I feel helpless.

"If I am sentenced to death, I hope someone will help take care of my father, my mother, my family, my child … I hope the case will be dealt with according to rights provided for by the law, not manipulated by the privileged people."

He told Cao he had called the emergency police line and was waiting to turn himself in. But the police never arrived so he fled three hours later, said his lawyer, Liu.

"A man in his position is panicky – it's only human. He would try to escape from the scene and go as far as he could," said Liu, who had spent much of Monday trying to find his client.

When the two spoke by phone on Sunday night he said Chen was fighting an asthma attack and struggling to talk.

"He wasn't even sure of his exact location," said the lawyer. "It was a strange and unfamiliar place. He said there was a black car chasing him, so he veered off the highway and into the fields."

The last thing he heard before Chen hung up was the young man asking a passer-by where the nearest police station was.

Nicholas Bequelin, of Human Rights Watch, said it was reasonable for authorities to investigate someone who had attacked others with a knife, but that the concern was it would be handled by local officials who are already facing serious allegations of corruption and abuse of power.

"Since they invaded his home without warrant, and given the pattern of brutality and violence against the family, this is something that has to be looked at very carefully," he said.

The irony, he added, was that Chen Guangcheng's troubles began with his efforts to help others use the law to defend their rights. He served four years in jail for obstructing traffic and destroying public property, but supporters claim they were trumped-up charges; supposed retaliation for helping women subjected to forced sterilizations and abortions.

Now others are under pressure for supporting him.

"For the rights community [his escape] is a victory and perhaps there was no choice: he could have lived under those conditions for the rest of his life," said Bequelin.

"My concern is that even if the case of Chen and his immediate family is resolved, many people could pay a heavy price."

Intellpuke: You can read this article by Guardian China Correspondent Tania Branagin, reporting from Dongshigu, Shandong province, in context here:

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