Concern is growing for relatives and supporters of Chen Guangcheng, the blind legal activist who fled from 19 months of house arrest in a Chinese village in Shandong province and is said to be sheltering inside the American embassy in Beijing. Police have detained four family members and two of those who aided his escape, a rights group said.
The US has declined to comment on Chen's whereabouts, but friends have said that he is at the embassy, although he had told them he did not wish to seek asylum. His case threatens to overshadow the arrival of US secretary of state Hillary Clinton and treasury secretary Timothy Geithner for bilateral talks in Beijing this week.
Chen, a self-taught legal activist, fell foul of authorities for exposing a mass campaign of forced sterilisations and abortions in his area. He was jailed for four years on what supporters said were trumped-up charges and put under house arrest following his release in September 2010. He and his wife have not even been able to meet neighbours or use the telephone or internet. At one stage their young daughter was prevented from going to school.
In a video appeal to Chinese premier Wen Jiabao, released as news of his escape broke on Friday, Chen said that he feared "insane retribution" against his family, who remain in Dongshigu village, Linyi prefecture, in the eastern province of Shandong.
The situation of his wife, mother and six-year-old daughter – who have also been living under house arrest – is unknown. But the Chinese Human Rights Defenders (CHRD) network said they believed four relatives were already in custody. Wen Jiabao