The brother of blind activist Chen Guangcheng, who fled his tightly guarded village in Shandong province Tuesday morning to seek legal assistance for his son, is believed to have returned home, despite almost certain arrest and retaliation by local officials.
“Chen Guangfu has left Beijing already, and probably went home,” said prominent rights lawyer Jiang Tianyong, who had spoken with the farmer on the phone a day earlier. “If he didn’t return home, he would have been detained and taken back anyway. There is going to be trouble [for Chen].”
Jiang said he had no further word from the farmer, who he said returned home out of fear for his family members.
Human rights lawyer Chen Guangcheng, 55, made a daring escape under the noses of lax security guards late last month, making it all the way to the capital, where he gained protection in the U.S. Embassy. The incident increased the diplomatic tension between China and the United States, which only ended when embarrassed Chinese officials agreed to a face-saving plan to allow the self-trained lawyer to go to the United States for further study.
Chen Guangcheng, who spent four years in prison for opposing abuses under China’s forced abortion program, had been under house arrest for 19 months until his surprise escape.
Chen’s nephew, Chen Guangfu’s son Chen Kegui, 32, was arrested and charged with “intentional homicide” after he allegedly used knives to fend off police during a raid on his home by local officials searching for his uncle, whose escape had only been discovered by officials one day earlier. His father told lawyers in Beijing that the arrest was in retaliation for the escape of his uncle, which humiliated local officials.
According to a statement Friday by China Human Rights Defenders, Chen Guangfu had recently been threatened by Linyi authorities after he described torture at the hands of police in late April. Authorities warned him that as a result of his accusations that Chen Kegui would receive a harsher punishment. Chen Guangfu was also told not to speak about the torture again.
In a daring escape similar to his brother’s, Chen Guangfu evaded guards surrounding his home, and maneuvered across farm fields, and then was able to travel to Beijing. There he urged family-appointed lawyers Ding Xikun and Si Weijiang not to abandon the defense of Chen Kegui.
Jiang said that Cheng Guangfu met with his son’s wife before his escape and that she agreed that she wanted Ding and Si to represent her husband, Chen Kegui.
Ding and Si traveled to the Yinan Detention Centre in Shandong to meet with their client, Chen Kegui, but they were prevented by police, who said that the accused man had already asked for a public defender to represent him. And a third lawyer, Chen Wuquan, has had his lawyer’s license confiscated before he could leave his hometown in Guangdong province to take part in the defense.
“This is illegal under Chinese law,” said Liu, a member of a lawyers group attempting to help him. “The government has no authority to appoint a lawyer if the family has already appointed one.”
Liu expressed fears about Chen Kegui while in police custody.
“We were not able to meet with Chen, and so we don’t know what his situation is,” said Liu. “We’re very concerned about his safety.”
Liu said that Chen Kegui had been charged with intentional homicide for allegedly stabbing police officers who he says broke into his house just after midnight on April 27 in search of his uncle. And further, Chen Kegui has said the police officers who entered the home in the middle of the night were wearing plain clothes and did not identify themselves. Liu said none of the police officers were seriously injured.
“With so many unidentified people rushing into his house in the middle of the night, how can it be called intentional homicide?” asked Jiang.
Jiang said Chen Guangfu told him that the number of security people in the village had increased significantly and that the scope of their network had been greatly widened after the international media visited the village to interview the family.
Jiang said when he asked Chen Guangfu about the situation of the family, that the call was suddenly broken—he suspects by the police.
Chen Guangfu had spoken to the international media about his son’s detention and his own torture at the hands of local authorities keen to know how the blind lawyer had escaped.
Chen Guangfu’s escape from Dongshigu Village, Shandong province, was an embarrassment for Chinese security officials—especially as it came just one month after his brother fled.
Wang Songlian, research coordinator of China Human Rights Defenders, said Chen Guangfu’s escape showed that the central government’s promise to investigate the crimes of local officials was just empty words.
“The continued persecution of Chen’s family either shows that the central government has little power to rein in local officials, or that it is totally behind these extralegal detentions and beatings,” said Wang. “Either way, it is making the Chinese government look worse and worse on the international stage.”
Jiang said that rights lawyers were very concerned about the chance of Chen Kegui receiving a fair hearing.
“We hope his case can be carried out in accordance with the law,” he said. “But we are not optimistic he will have an open and fair trial. We’ve very, very pessimistic.”
In his first interview in the United States on Thursday, Chen Guangcheng attacked the “despicable” retribution against his family, which he said had intensified since his escape. He said that the case of his nephew Chen Kegui was a litmus test for the rule of law in China.