Two human rights campaigners attempting to visit blind Shandong-based activist Chen Guangcheng, who has been under house arrest with his wife and child for almost a year, were detained and beaten by unidentified thugs guarding the road into the village, activists said on Monday.
Beijing-based activist Liu Shasha traveled to Chen's home village in Shandong's Yinan county on Sunday along with four companions, according to Nanjing-based rights activist He Peirong, known by her online nickname as @pearlher.
The group, which included Miao Jue from Beijing, Peng Yuanzhong from Hunan, Ge Jiang from Jiangsu, and Hunan-based netizen Chen Jianfeng, traveled to Dongshigu village in the hope of visiting the family.
Miao said the group was pounced on by around a dozen men who were watching the main intersection of the village as soon as they got out of their vehicle.
"There was no chance to speak," said Miao, whose handbag, cell phone, and cash were snatched away by the men. "As soon as we tried to say anything, they covered up our mouths and pinned our arms so we couldn't move," she said.
"My hands were forced behind my back and my fingers are black and blue," Miao said.
Miao said she was flung to the side of the road and left, before one of her companions picked her up and took her to report the incident at the local police station.
"They told us we would have to report it in Linyi city," she said.
Pushed into a ditch
An audio recording taken at the time of their detention and passed to RFA's Mandarin service featured a distressed Liu Shasha shouting, "Shut the car window! Shut the window! They are arresting Miao Jue, quick, get out of here!"
Liu was unwilling to describe her ordeal on Monday. "I have a mental block about this right now, so I can't say much about it," she said. "When they pushed me out of the car they pushed me into a ditch."
"As I stood up and tried to walk back towards their car, they punched me and gave me a bloody nose," Liu said.
Peng Yuanzhong said he had helped the two women get back to the city after the attacks.
"I have just taken [Liu Shasha] to the station and she is going back to Linyi," Peng said. "She is covered in injuries, and she is bleeding."
"I am going back for Miao Jue," he said. "She just called and she has been released."
An officer who answered the phone at the local police station refused to comment on the attacks on Liu and Miao.
"What is it, who do you want?" he said. Asked about the reported beatings, he hung up.
Rights activists say they are increasingly concerned over the situation of Chen and his family, saying the family has been totally cut off from the outside world following a year of unofficial house arrest after Chen's release from a four-year jail term.
All three roads into Dongshigu village are watched around the clock by a security detail, according to recent microblog posts.
Chen, 38, a self-taught lawyer who has persistently campaigned for women's rights issues under China's draconian family-planning regime, was jailed for four years and three months for “damaging public property and obstructing traffic” by the Linyi municipal court in August 2006.
Chen had exposed abuses like forced abortions and sterilizations by local family planning officials under China’s “One Child” population-control policy.
He had served the full jail term in spite of repeated requests for medical parole.
Journalists and concerned netizens, including He Peirong, have reported being turned back by officials or gangs of men brandishing sticks when they tried to visit Chen's home.
Chinese authorities use house arrest, known in Chinese as "soft detention," as a means of containing and intimidating activists.
Chinese authorities have launched an unprecedented crackdown on dissent around the country following online, anonymous calls early this year for a "Jasmine" revolution inspired by uprisings in the Middle East.
Reported by Grace Kei Lai-see for RFA's Cantonese service, and by Qiao Long for the Mandarin service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.