Blind activist Chen Guangcheng has reportedly been given refuge in the US embassy in Beijing following his dramatic escape from his heavily guarded home in east China, reports and rights group said on Saturday.
The United States, however, did not confirm the reports that Chen, who was spirited away from house arrest at his home in Shandong province, was in the US embassy.
China too declined to comment on the issue, which now threatens to overshadow a top-level China-US meeting in Beijing next week that will include secretary of state Hillary Clinton.
While the case is being closely followed by the international media, it has been blacked out by official media; there was no word on it any of the English mouthpieces like People's Daily or Xinhua news agency.
"The People's Court of Yinan County, in east China's Shandong Province, Thursday sentenced Chen Guangcheng to four years and three months in prison on charges of willfully damaging property and organising a mob to disturb traffic," said a 2006 story on Chen in China Daily.
For China, this new incident will add to the unease already triggered by the high-profile saga of the sacked Communist Party of China (CPC) leader, Bo Xilai and that of his wife, charged with murder.
On the Chen incident, much of the information is coming from other activists and rights groups.
"ChinaAid learned from a source close to the Chen Guangcheng situation that Chen is under US protection and high level talks are currently under way between US and Chinese officials regarding Chen's status," a statement from the US-based group said on Saturday.
"This is a pivotal moment for US human rights diplomacy," said Bob Fu, ChinaAid chief. "Because of Chen's wide popularity, the Obama Administration must stand firmly with him or risk losing credibility as a defender of freedom and the rule of law. If there is a reason why Chinese dissidents revere the US, it is for a moment like this," the statement added.
Chen's escape is shrouded in mystery and it is also not clear from where he uploaded the video, demanding justice from Premier Wen Jiabao, on YouTube.
The UN human rights chief Navi Pillay said she was concerned for the well-being of Chen and his family. "I'm disturbed to hear reports that other family members, including his brother Chen Guangfu and nephew Chen Kegui, have now been detained," she said in a statement.