Blind Chinese legal activist Chen Guangcheng told a U.S. congressional hearing Tuesday he is concerned about the persecution he says his relatives have faced following his escape from house arrest in April and flight to the U.S. embassy in Beijing. Chen's actions triggered an intense round of negotiations between the United States and China. He was later released to a hospital in Beijing, where he is now waiting for Chinese authorities to approve a request to travel to the United States.
Chen says that since he escaped house arrest last month, both his nephew and older brother have been beaten by Chinese authorities.
Speaking by telephone from the hospital in Beijing, Chen said local authorities and hired thugs raided the home of his older brother around midnight April 26 and later took the man away without explanation.
In his call with members of a House foreign affairs subcommittee, Chen said the group of thugs beat his brother and his family members violently.
Chen Guangcheng said his nephew, Chen Kegui, was also savagely attacked during the raid and in the process injured several of his attackers. Chen Kegui has been charged with attempted murder, but Chen Guangcheng said his nephew was acting in self-defense.
Chen said his nephew was beaten savagely, leaving his face covered in blood and his clothes torn. Chen said that three hours after the attack, his face was still bleeding.
At the hearing, rights activist Bob Fu noted that authorities in China have thwarted attempts to get a lawyer to represent Chen Kegui. Authorities have revoked the licenses of some lawyers and barred others from traveling to Shandong province where the nephew is being held.
"I am very, very concerned that the Chinese government, especially the local Linyi authorities will, based on these trumped up charges [against Chen Kegui] make a fake trial and expeditiously hand him a very severe sentence," said Fu.
In 2006, Chen Guangcheng was sentenced to four years in prison for exposing abuses under China's forced abortion policy aimed at population control. After he was released in 2010, he was held under strict house arrest. He escaped April 22 and later fled to the U.S. embassy in Beijing, where he remained for six days.
Tuesday was the second time that Chen has called in to address a U.S. congressional hearing in less than two weeks. When asked by Republican Representative Christopher Smith, the chairman of a House Foreign Affairs subcommittee, whether he had anything he would like to tell the U.S. people, he voiced his gratitude to those who have shown concern for his situation and that of his family.
Chen also said that he is not a hero, but just someone who follows his conscience. He said he cannot be silent when facing what he called these evils (such as forced abortions) against women and children.
Chen says U.S. diplomats have been asked to maintain a low profile on his case as discussions continue with their Chinese counterparts on plans for him to travel to New York for a teaching fellowship.
In an interview with VOA earlier Tuesday, Chen said a Chinese official, authorized by the central government, recently visited him in the hospital to discuss details of his trip to the United States.
Chen said that while there has not been any substantial progress, he thinks his trip will eventually take place.
State Department spokesperson Victoria Nuland said Tuesday that the U.S. has finished processing his visa paperwork and that it has been ready for more than a week.