Chen Guangcheng, while in protective custody of the U.S. Embassy in Beijing on May 2 after escaping house arrest in Shandong province.
By msnbc.com staff and news services
Chen Guangcheng, the blind Chinese lawyer who escaped house arrest and now is expected to leave his country for the United States, says that police have detained his sister-in-law and a nephew in retaliation against his high-profile case, The Guardian reported on Thursday.
Chen’s escape in May from his home village in Shandong province, only to resurface in U.S. protective custody at the American Embassy in Beijing exposed the harsh tactics of local officials, embarrassed China’s security apparatus, and forced the start of awkward diplomatic wrangling over his pursuit of refuge
According to the Guardian, Chen is no longer concerned about his own safety, but worried about relatives left behind.
"The crazy retaliation against my family has started," he told the Guardian by phone. "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."
Chen’s nephew is under investigation over the stabbing of village security agents who entered his home in search of the fugitive.
Chen is expected to travel to the United States after China’s foreign ministry said it would accept his bid to study abroad. He has been offered fellowships at New York University and the University of Washington.
A network of human rights activists in China said the retribution against Chen is extensive, the Associated Press reported.
Chinese Human Rights Defenders told AP that about a dozen of Chen's relatives in his home 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, AP reported. "What is going to happen once the spotlight shifts? It is extremely worrying."
Chen is a self-taught legal activist who gained recognition overseas for battling forced abortion in his province and championing the rights of the disabled. He has served four years in prison on what many observers believe were trumped up charges. After his prison release, local officials kept Chen and his wife and young daughter under house arrest during which time both of the adults say they suffered physical abuse.