WASHINGTON - U.S. officials say they are in contact with Chinese authorities about “concerning reports” by blind activist Chen Guangcheng that his relatives are being intimidated.
U.S. State Department spokesman Victoria Nuland says the U.S. could not independently confirm the reports, because it does not have a presence in Shandong province.
“So we’ve made inquiries. We’ve expressed our concern should there be any sense of reprisal, et cetera, but we are awaiting further information,” she told reporters Thursday at a daily briefing in Washington.
Chen has told reporters his brother and sister-in-law are under house arrest in their village in Shandong province, and that police are detaining his nephew. Chen told VOA this week his nephew was detained after suffering a “ruthless” beating by "thugs with wooden sticks."
After nearly two years under his own extrajudicial detention, Chen broke free April 22 in a daring flight to the U.S. Embassy in Beijing. The case has embarrassed China and complicated U.S.-Sino relations.
Chen has left the embassy and is being treated in a local hospital as part of a deal the U.S. said would also allow Chen to receive visits from U.S. officials. But Chen says Chinese authorities are not permitting those visits.
U.S. State Department spokesman Nuland confirmed to reporters this week that U.S. officials have not seen Chen since Friday, and only have made phone contact with him this week. However, she downplayed the issue, saying, “We are satisfied with the contact that we’ve had with him.”
A U.S. official said on background Thursday that Washington does not want to push the issue and further antagonize China by insisting it uphold its deal. The official said the U.S. believes the situation will be better resolved if they let it go for the moment.
Chen served four years in prison in 2006 for damaging property and disrupting traffic, charges his lawyers say were trumped up to punish him for exposing forced abortions and sterilizations. The self-taught lawyer is now awaiting permission from China to study law in the United States.