Chen Guangcheng issues plea for relatives in China

The BBC's Martin Patience retraces the steps of Chen Guangcheng, who scaled this wall and hid in a pigsty to escape his house arrest

A Chinese activist who fled to the US last year has told the BBC he thinks Washington should do more to protect the relatives he left behind in China.

Chen Guangcheng caused a diplomatic row between the US and China when he escaped house arrest and sought refuge in the American embassy in Beijing.

He was eventually allowed to settle in New York with his immediate family.

But he said relatives he left behind had been subjected to "systematic persecution" by the authorities.

China's authorities do not usually comment on the case of Mr Chen and his relatives. In the past they have denied allegations of mistreatment and even that he was under house arrest.

At the scene

A year after Chen Guangcheng's remarkable escape, his relatives say they are still suffering reprisals.

The government-hired thugs who kept the blind activist under house arrest still roam his home village. His brother - Chen Guangfu - told me that he had lost his job because of government pressure. He says that in April he was beaten up by two men who had jumped out of a car with no licence plates. He is in no doubt they wanted "to teach him a lesson".

His son was jailed after attacking officials who broke into his home following Chen Guangcheng's escape last year. But despite everything the family has suffered, Chen Guangfu says his brother's escape was worth it. "If he hadn't escaped he would have be tortured to death. His escape was an enormous victory for us."

Chen Guangcheng says that he hopes to return home one day. But his brother says that is impossible. Nothing has changed in the village, he says.

Mr Chen, who exposed forced abortions and sterilisations in his home province of Shandong, said he felt let down by both the Chinese and American governments.

"I think the US government should publicly and officially ask the Chinese government to fulfil their commitments. It's been a year now and neither side is living up to their promises following the negotiations last year," he said in a BBC interview in London.

Mr Chen said his relatives had been constantly harassed since he left for the US in May last year.

He said an elder brother was stopped by an unmarked car while driving on a motorway and beaten up.

He added that a nephew, Chen Kegui, was denied medical treatment when he developed appendicitis while in prison. The nephew was sentenced to more than three years in jail for attacking officials who broke into the family's home when they learnt of Chen Guangcheng's escape.

The activist also said other family members have suffered intimidation; dead chickens, stones and even home-made bombs have been thrown into the family compound in the village of Dongshigu, near the city of Linyi.

Chen Guangcheng tells the BBC's Mishal Husain that "beer bottle bombs" have been thrown at his family home

"They sent my nephew to prison, they attack and harass my family constantly and officials who harassed me in the past have now been promoted," he said.

Mr Chen, who has been blind since childhood, was sent to prison for more than four years in 2006 for damaging property and disrupting the traffic - but many thought these were trumped-up charges used to silence a government critic.

When he was released he was put under house arrest, but managed to escape and flee to the US embassy, just before the then US Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, was due to arrive in China.

The embarrassing situation, which at one point threatened to turn into a full-blown diplomatic row, was resolved when Mr Chen agreed to leave the embassy. He was then allowed to fly into exile in the United States.

Mr Chen thinks the Chinese authorities now regret allowing him to leave.

"We've heard this morning that some people from the Communist Party are saying: 'We made a mistake letting Chen go to the US, we should have beaten him to death last year'," he told the BBC.

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