Chen Guangfu, the eldest brother of blind Chinese activist Chen Guangcheng, shows how he had his hands tied behind a chair
The brother of blind activist Chen Guangcheng has fled his village in north-eastern China, evading a security clampdown to seek help from lawyers for his son who has been detained in a case that has become a rallying point among rights activists.
Chen Guangfu, the eldest brother of Chen Guangcheng, told Reuters that he walked out of his home in Shandong province at 3 a.m. (Monday 7.00 p.m. GMT) on Tuesday, eluding the increased number of sentries near his village by avoiding roads and running through fields. He arrived in Beijing on Wednesday evening after a six-hour journey by car.
His activist brother escaped Dongshigu village in late April after 19 months of detention at home, following a similar route to the capital before taking refuge in the U.S. embassy, where he stayed for six days and sparked a diplomatic crisis between China and the United States.
That crisis, which overshadowed a visit by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, was finally defused on Saturday when China allowed Chen to fly to the United States to study. But while Chen Guangcheng spent his first few days in New York after years of jail and detention, most of his family back home in Shandong has remained under a security clampdown.
The 55-year-old Chen Guangfu, in a rare interview since his brother escaped in April, recounted details of his own torture and reprisals by authorities since his brother's escape.
He said he was restricted from leaving the village and that police in Shandong warned him they would increase the sentence for his son, Chen Kegui, who is being held on an attempted murder charge, if he gave interviews.
"I feel since they are already doing this, why can't I say something?" Chen Guangfu said late on Wednesday in a teahouse in western Beijing. "I have the power to speak up."
"I told them their claims have no legal basis, but are based on power or by their will to determine Kegui's sentence. On this point, I'll never be able to accept it," he said, adding he planned to return to his village soon.
Local government and public security bureau officials were not immediately available for comment.
Chen Kegui, 32, was charged with "intentional homicide" for using knives to fend off local officials who burst into his home on April 27, the day after they discovered his blind uncle had escaped. He could face the death penalty. His lawyers, denied access to him on Friday, said he did not kill anyone.
Chen Guangfu's wife, Ren Zongju, also may be indicted for "harbouring" her son, a charge punishable by up to 10 years jail, lawyers said. She was detained on April 29 and freed on bail. His daughter-in-law, Liu Fang, has been in Beijing for the past three weeks seeking lawyers for her husband.
Reprisals began soon after Chen's escape was discovered. Just after midnight on April 27, men in plainclothes scaled the walls of Chen Guangfu's home and kicked open its doors. They put a hood over him and took him to a police building. There, he said, they handcuffed him, bound his feet in iron chains, slapped him and stomped on his feet.
His captors lifted his handcuffed hands from the back so he couldn't sit straight and used his belt to whip his hands. The beatings lasted "a long time" and his left thumb lost feeling, he said.
"How did Guangcheng escape?" police asked him repeatedly.
The Foreign Ministry has said that Chen Guangcheng was a "free citizen" after his release from jail in 2010. But the walls and guards that penned him in his home and kept supporters and reporters out reflect the pervasive informal controls used to throttle dissent in China.
His elder brother's account illustrates the pressure authorities put on family members of dissidents and the hard line taken against Chen Guangcheng's family. Their treatment has encouraged lawyers and advocates to challenge what they see as the ruling Communist Party's stifling of lawful dissent.
A farmer and an odd-job labourer, Chen Guangfu said he told the police the full account of his brother's escape after they mentioned the names of activists and villagers involved. He also told police he had an obligation to help his younger brother, and stressed that he had already completed his sentence and become a "free citizen".
"I don't think he's a criminal. I don't think I'm in the wrong for helping a free citizen," he told police.