Blind Chinese human rights activist Chen Guangcheng has escaped from heavily-guarded house arrest in Shandong and has released a video in which he directly addresses Premier Wen Jiabao.
Supporters helped Guangcheng make a daring and bold escape from his home on Sunday, after spending about 18 months in detention. No other details about the escape are available, and his current whereabouts are not known.
Chen's video, posted on various websites, are his first public comments.
In it, Chen says the abuse he was subject to while under house arrest was even worse than had been discussed by supporters on the Internet. Although he is now free, he says he is worried about the safety of his family.
Chen says his wife, child and mother are still under the control of the local authorities, and are therefore subject to persecution. He said he is concerned the retaliation against them will be “crazy.”
Authorities last July brutally beat Chen and his wife for four hours, according to activists, which later led to incorrect rumors that he had died. Meanwhile, activists now say local authorities have taken into custody family members who brawled with them after the escape.
In his video, Chen urged the central officials to investigate the situation in his hometown near Linyi in Shandong province. He accuses local officials of being corrupt, and wanting to keep him detained so that "their criminality is not revealed."
Foreign Ministry spokesman Liu Weimin refused to comment. He says he has seen what he called “relevant reports,” but that he has no information so far.
Activists say Chen is somewhere in Beijing, and some reports suggest that he may have fled to the U.S. embassy. Witnesses Friday said they saw no unusual Chinese security activity outside the U.S. embassy and American spokesmen said they also had no information on the case at this time.
Chen is a 40-year-old self-taught lawyer who spent four years in prison after exposing forced abortions and sterilizations by Chinese family planning authorities. He has been under house arrest since he was released from jail in September 2010.
This incident comes just a week before regular, high-level U.S.-China discussions that will include human rights issues. It is also occurring at a time when China's ruling Communist Party is trying to ensure social stability ahead of a leadership transition later this year.