U.S.-based Chinese blind dissident Chen Guangcheng said Thursday that the authorities in Beijing were attempting to prevent him from speaking out on human rights abuses by using his arrested nephew as a "hostage."
He said that although his nephew Chen Kegui was facing a reduced charge of causing injury—from the more serious attempted murder charge—the Chinese authorities were still seeking revenge against him for escaping from house arrest and making his trip to the U.S. to study law.
The scaling down of the charge brings scant comfort to the family but "it's not as if they are admitting they were wrong by changing it like that," Chen told Radio Free Asia in an interview. "It's still a form of revenge towards my family."
Chen Kegui, who defended his family from an allegedly brutal attack by Chinese provincial officials after his uncle's daring escape from house arrest in April, will no longer be charged with "intentional homicide," but with "intentional injury" instead, according to Chen Guangfu, his father and Chen Guangcheng's brother.
But Chen Guangcheng said the authorities in his home county of Yinan were effectively using Chen Kegui as a "hostage," so as to ensure the activist wasn't too harshly critical of the authorities during his stay as a visiting law student in New York.
"They have prevented the lawyers from meeting with him ... They are clearly in breach of the law here, and yet they continue to do this blatantly, with no sign that they will correct their error," said Chen, who visited RFA's office in Washington.
Chen Kegui's case was shrouded in secrecy since Chen Guangcheng's arrival in the U.S. in May, with many lawyers reporting official harassment after they tried to advise or represent him.
However, the case was passed to the state prosecutor's office earlier this month, and the homicide charges filed against him earlier have been withdrawn.
In an interview in August, Chen Guangfu said police and officials "illegally burst into my house on the night of April 26 and ruthlessly beat up me, my son Kegui, and Kegui’s wife, who was wounded by the attackers."
He said the attackers were shouting to each other to beat his son to death, so his son picked up a kitchen knife in self-defense, injuring Zhang Jian, the head of Shuanghou township, and two other attackers.
Chen Guangcheng said he "definitely" planned to go back to China after completing his law study.
"I definitely want to return to China in the future," he said. "China can't continue like this forever, and I think that, by the time I go back, China will be almost like today's Taiwan," he said.
China regards democratic Taiwan as a renegade province and the two have been ruled separately since the end of a civil war in 1949.
Chen Guangcheng said however that he was "still getting used to life here, so I haven't even thought about going back yet."
Chen's daring escape in April from his closely guarded home and subsequent flight to the U.S. Embassy in Beijing, where he sought refuge for nearly a week, came just ahead of annual strategic dialogues between U.S. and Chinese officials, prompting a diplomatic crisis and frantic behind-the-scenes negotiations.
The crisis was defused after Chen was allowed to fly to New York, where he is now a special student in law at the U.S.-Asia Law Institute of New York University.
He has accused Beijing of failing to honor its pledge to investigate abuses that he and his family were subjected to while under house arrest in China.
Chen vowed to continue pushing for human rights and the rule of law in China.
The blind activist said he had been listening to Radio Free Asia since 1998 to stay in touch with political, social and development issues in China, urging his Chinese compatriots to listen to the Washington-based radio station broadcasts on short wave.
Chinese media censorship includes radio jamming targeted largely at foreign broadcasters, including RFA.
"I know that jamming is a big problem, but short wave radio can play a complementary role in China’s society, especially in the rural areas where the Internet is not very popular yet," Chen said.
"The short wave radio program can guide people on what subjects they may be more interested in knowing, especially if they know how to use a proxy server to bypass the Internet blockage. Therefore I believe that short wave radio should not be minimized or cut, instead it should be strengthened. There should be more air time, more frequencies and more programs.
"It is wrong to have a notion that Internet will replace short wave radio. I don’t buy that."
Chen was in Washington to receive the 2012 Oxi Day Award from the Washington Oxi Day Foundation "for the courage he showed to promote democratic values and fundamental rights in China."
"Despite losing his sight as a child, [Chen] Guangcheng’s legal vision has made him one of China’s most prominent human rights defenders," it said in a statement on its website.
On Wednesday, Human Rights First gave Chen its 2012 Human Rights Award. It was presented by actor Christian Bale, who had tried to meet the activist in China in December but was turned away by officials.
"Human Rights First selected Chen for his lifetime of work on behalf of the thousands of Chinese citizens who had been subjected to forced late-term abortions, mandatory sterilizations, and unprovoked late night beatings," the group said in a statement on its website.
"His daring defiance of a brutal regime gives courage to those in China and beyond who struggle for human rights," the group's president and CEO Elisa Massimino said.
Chen told RFA he had mixed emotions on receiving the award, because he believed it wasn't an individual achievement, but a collective one.
"It's hard to explain in a few words, but overall, the U.S. seems to care about things that benefit humanity," he said.
"Regardless of what award I am honored with, I don't see it as being for me, but for everyone in China who works hard for human rights and the rule of law."
Chen said he was still getting used to life in the U.S., with the language barrier his biggest difficulty.
Reported by Grace Kei Lai-see for RFA's Cantonese and Zhang Min for the Mandarin service. Translated by Luisetta Mudie and Feng Xiaoming. Written in English by Luisetta Mudie and Parameswaran Ponnudurai.