BEIJING — A year after the blind Chinese legal activist Chen Guangcheng escaped from house detention and fled to the United States following intense diplomatic negotiations, his relatives appear to be the targets of escalating retaliation from local authorities.
Chen’s nephew, who was imprisoned for clashing with officials when they charged into his home looking for Chen, is suffering from severe appendicitis but has been denied medical parole, family members said Tuesday. Meanwhile, the home of Chen’s elder brother has been attacked for several nights by people throwing rocks, uprooting trees and leaving symbolic threats such as a dead chicken, according to Chen’s brother.
In the United States, Chen has spent recent weeks raising his family’s plight with members of Congress and human rights groups, but to little avail, and some advocates working with him have begun criticizing the Obama administration, which negotiated his release from China.
State Department spokesman Patrick Ventrell said U.S. officials support requests for medical or humanitarian parole for the nephew, Chen Kegui. “The U.S. Embassy and officials in Washington have reiterated our concerns with the Chinese government and called for Chen Kegui to be given immediate medical attention,” he said. “Ambassador [Gary] Locke is underscoring our concern with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs today.”
Ventrell also said that the administration remains “deeply concerned by credible reports that local authorities continue to harass Chen Kegui’s family members in his home village.”
For Chen’s family, his nephew’s medical condition is the most pressing issue. Reached by phone in the rural village of Dongshigu, in Shandong province, Chen’s older brother Chen Guangfu said his son first told him he had been diagnosed with appendicitis in a phone call from prison on April 24. On Monday, he reported there were signs that his appendix was abscessed and suppurating.
Chen Guangfu said officials at the Linyi prison, in Shangdong, have denied requests for his son to be treated at a hospital but have sent him to the prison clinic, where treatment is limited to antibiotics.
Surgical removal of the appendix is the traditional treatment for an infected appendix, although evidence is emerging that the condition can be cured with antibiotics alone.
“The prison told me they have their own arrangement. They also said that they will transfer him to a hospital if he faces danger,” Chen Guangfu said. “But I have doubts about their treatment.”
In recent days, Chen Guangcheng has urged the Obama administration to disclose the terms under which he was allowed to leave China, accusing the Chinese government of ignoring its pledge to protect his family from retaliation and to investigate the local authorities that tortured and kept him under house arrest.
Ventrell responded at a recent press conference that U.S. officials had already “characterized publicly what we could about the negotiation.”
The recent harassment follows several high-profile appearances by Chen in the United States, including at a congressional hearing in April.
Bob Fu of China Aid, a Texas-based Christian organization that has helped Chen since his escape last year, called the latest incidents an intentional escalation of harassment by Chinese authorities. “They have taken the U.S. administration’s public silence as a green light to try to stop Chen’s activity abroad, to silence his voice,” he said.
Speaking to journalists at The Washington Post last week, Chen was not as critical of the administration but said he had received no response from U.S. officials about his family’s harassment. “I think any kind of active appeal will be helpful,” he said.
Obama administration officials say they have raised the matter at the highest levels, including during recent visits to China by Secretary of State John F. Kerry and Deputy Secretary Bill Burns.
Chen’s extended family in Dongshigu said that at 2 a.m. on Tuesday, their home was pelted with large stones and beer bottles, the latest of several night attacks in the past two weeks. Local police now refuse to answer their emergency calls, Chen Guangfu said. Calls to local officials in Shangdong province went unanswered Tuesday, a public holiday.
In previous night raids, the attackers pulled up trees and a garden the family depends on for food. With fears of a new strain of bird flu spreading in China, the assailants recently threw a dead bird into their yard. In another message, Chen Guangfu found “ghost money” at the house gate — fake paper notes used as burnt offerings to the dead. Large posters have also been put up in the village denouncing Chen as a traitor and a misguided supporter of Taiwanese independence.
“Everyone here knows who did these things, but nobody says it out loud,” Chen Guangfu said. “The authorities have asked villagers to carry out these attacks.”
Speaking on behalf of Chen Guangcheng in New York, his wife, Yuan Weijing, said they believe the recent escalation of harassment, especially the attacks on his brother’s house, is intended to sow discord within the family.
“They may think that over time this harassment will alienate the two families,” she said. “Secondly, they are increasing the pressure on the elder brother’s family, hoping that Chen Guangcheng will speak out less in the U.S.”
But the opposite is likely to happen, she said. “It will only cause more people to know what kind of people these officials are and what is happening in China.”
Jason Ukman and David Brown in Washington contributed to this report.