Authorities in the eastern Chinese province of Shandong have withdrawn charges against some family members of blind dissident Chen Guangcheng, who won international fame for his escape from house arrest a year ago.
Police in Shandong's Yinan county had summoned Chen Guangcheng's brother, Chen Guangjun, and sister-in-law Ren Zongju, last week and told them they were suspected of "harboring" their son, Chen Kegui, who is currently in jail for causing injury to local officials in a raid in the aftermath of his uncle's flight from the town.
But when the family hired Beijing rights lawyers Li Fangping and Zhang Jianqin, the police apparently changed their minds, Chen Guangcheng's elder brother Chen Guangfu said.
"Li Fangping and Zhang Jianqin came down here with the intention of representing [Ren Zongzu]," Chen Guangfu said in an interview on Monday.
"After the lawyers got here, [the authorities] then decided they wouldn't pursue the case," he said.
The Chen family say the authorities have stepped up harassment of Chen Guangcheng's relatives ahead of last week's anniversary of his dramatic escape from 18 months of house arrest in Shandong's Dongshigu village that prompted a diplomatic standoff between Washington and Beijing.
On April 22 last year, Chen Guangcheng, a self-taught lawyer who exposed forced abortions under the country's one-child policy and defended the rights of ordinary people, outwitted his guards and made his way to the U.S. Embassy in Beijing.
Chinese and American officials eventually struck a deal allowing him and his family to go to New York, where he is currently a visiting legal scholar.
Chen Guangfu said the withdrawal of Ren's case came after he gave a number of interviews to foreign media about the new charges against her and her husband in recent days.
"From the moment I got their notification [about the case], I spoke out about a lot of things to the foreign media, and to friends online," Chen Guangfu said.
"Perhaps the reaction from overseas was quite strong," he said. "If this is the case, then they probably don't want this to get blown up, that's my feeling."
The other Chen brother, Chen Guangjun, said he too had been informed that the case against him was being dropped.
"I got a phone call," he said, adding that he was still ready to fight the case every step of the way. "They can do what they like," he said.
"I have already made preparations to take them to court."
Targeted by thugs
Since arriving in the U.S. in May last year, Chen Guangcheng has hit out against a persistent campaign of harassment carried out by Yinan county officials against relatives there.
Chen Guangfu said his family had continued to be targeted by government-backed thugs who had hung dead poultry and thrown rocks into his family's private courtyard one night last week.
"They threw a lot of rocks again on Friday, and they damaged a few more of my saplings, snapping them off in the middle and throwing them on the ground," Chen said.
"I have reported this to the police eight times ... and they have come over, but the harassment is continuing. Everybody knows who is actually behind this," he said, in a reference to the local government.
No medical parole for Chen Kegui
Meanwhile, prison officials have rejected Chen Kegui's request for medical parole from his jail sentence after a bout of appendicitis.
Chen Kegui, Chen Guangfu's son, is serving a 39-month prison term after he tried to defend the family in an attack following Chen Guangcheng's flight from the village, and had applied for medical parole in recent days after developing complications from the illness.
"I got a call from Chen Kegui in jail, telling me that he got appendicitis ... and that he was on a drip," Chen Guangfu said. "I went to visit him the next day."
"I have been worried about him ever since, and I went the next day with [his wife] Liu Fang to the jail to make an application for medical parole," he said.
"But the prison authorities wouldn't accept it, because they said it was only granted in cases where the prison hospital couldn't treat the case themselves."
"They said they would transfer him according to his condition, and that the family needn't interfere," Chen added.
Chen Kegui was initially charged with "intentional homicide" which was later revised to "intentional injury," after officials burst into the family home on the night of April 26, 2012, beating them up.
The raid on the family came when local officials—who had hired hundreds of local people to keep watch on Chen Guangcheng and his family—discovered the blind activist was nowhere to be seen, following his nighttime, solo escape on April 22, 2012.
Reported by Fang Yuan for RFA's Mandarin Service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.