Escaped activist's family faces threats in China

AP News
Posted: Apr 10, 2013 2:39 AM

BEIJING (AP) — A brother of Chinese activist Chen Guangcheng said Wednesday that the family faces official persecution and threats despite assurances that they would be treated in accordance to Chinese law when the activist was allowed to leave the country after escaping from house arrest.

The self-taught rights lawyer's escape from house arrest in eastern China last April set off a diplomatic tussle between Beijing and Washington before he eventually was allowed to move to the United States. U.S. officials have said Beijing gave assurances that Chen's relatives would be treated in accordance with Chinese law.

The latest accusations of harassment come a day after Chen Guangcheng told a U.S. congressional panel in Washington that "persecution of my family has never stopped."

Reached on his phone, Chen's eldest brother, Chen Guangfu, on Wednesday said his son has been threatened with life imprisonment if he should appeal his 39-month sentence for assault. He was sentenced in November in a summary trial, seen as retaliation by local officials angered by his uncle's escape.

Chen said he met with a rights lawyer in Beijing on Wednesday about appealing his son's jail sentence. He said the effort is likely to be fruitless, but he will still try.

"Since the law has given us the right to appeal, we will go through the procedure," Chen said, though he added that "we do not believe in Chinese law anymore."

He said his son was visited in jail in the city of Linyi in eastern Shandong province by unidentified officials — likely either jail wardens or police officers — who told him that he would be locked up forever if he appealed. Chen said officials used the same tactic before his son's trial last year, even hinting that his son's young child might suffer if he did not cooperate.

In March, a local township official attempted to pick up the 4-year-old from kindergarten but failed to give an explanation, Chen said.

"She said she was told by the township to do that, but she refused to tell me the purpose," he said.

On another occasion, Chen said he was followed by a man in a helmet and an army overcoat. He said he also has noticed several men have stayed overnight in a car at his village but have never been able to confront them and identify them.

"I think our personal safety is in their hands," said Chen.

Chen has been making similar complaints for the past several months as he tries to get his son freed.

Calls to the propaganda office of Linyi were unanswered Wednesday.

In written testimony to the U.S. panel, Chen Guangcheng criticized China's harassment of his family and its human rights record.

"When it can willfully break agreements in a case that has attracted the world's attention," Chen wrote, "how can we expect it to improve the human rights situation in other areas and to take up its international responsibilities and obligations?"