Blind Chinese dissident Chen Guangcheng, whose dramatic escape from house arrest last month sparked a diplomatic crisis between Washington and Beijing, says there has been little movement on his family's application for a passport since China said he was free to study overseas, amid concerns that he may be forced to return to his hometown to complete paperwork.
Chen, who is receiving medical treatment at a Beijing hospital after a six-day stay in the U.S. Embassy following his flight to the capital, said there had been no forward movement on his passport application, in spite of having received assurances that Washington stood ready to issue visas to him and his family.
A source familiar with the situation said Beijing officials were trying to persuade Chen to return to his home city of Linyi in eastern China, which administers his hometown of Dongshigu, to make the application.
"The authorities want Chen Guangcheng to go back to Linyi to process all the paperwork," the source said. "Actually Chen Guangcheng wants it all to get specially processed via the State Letters and Visits Bureau [in Beijing]."
The source said Shandong officials were hoping to use Chen's nephew as leverage to persuade the outspoken legal activist not to speak out openly about his treatment at their hands.
"They want to get hold of Chen Guangcheng when he goes back to Linyi and force him to 'behave himself' when he gets to America and not 'talk rubbish,'" she said.
She said authorities were also putting pressure on Chen not to speak out publicly on behalf of his nephew Chen Kegui, whom authorities detained last week on suspicion of murder in an apparent reprisal against the dissident.
"They want him not to make too much of a fuss about it and avoid making them lose face," the source said.
His nephew Chen Kegui is in the Yinan County Detention Center, she added.
Shenzhen-based pro-democracy activist Zhu Jianguo said it was typical of China's leadership to hand the case back to police in Linyi, which administers Yinan county and Chen's home village of Dongshigu.
"If the local government deals with it, and something unforeseen happens, then they can simply shift all of the blame onto the local authorities," he said.
"There is a very high likelihood that this will happen," Zhu added.
While the authorities have been questioning a number of his supporters to see whether anyone helped him escape, Chen reiterated on Tuesday that his dash for freedom across walls, closely guarded streets, backyards, and ditches was entirely his own doing.
"I honestly had no contact with the outside," Chen told RFA's Cantonese service. "All my means of making contact had been confiscated."
"I thought that I absolutely must get out of there, regardless of danger, because I couldn't allow my family to have to bear this any longer," he said from his bed in Beijing's Chaoyang Hospital.
But he declined to tell the full story of his escape in great detail. "The story of my escape can't be told in a short time," he said. "Also, I suffered quite a lot, so I don't particularly want to remember it."
Chen, who still has a foot in plaster following his dramatic April 22 escape from Dongshigu, said two public interest lawyers would travel to Shandong on Wednesday in an attempt to represent his nephew.
Beijing-based lawyer Ding Xikui said Yinan county police had called on him and his Shanghai-based colleague Si Weijiang to meet them alongside Chen Kegui's wife, who is apparently in hiding following her husband's arrest.
"I spoke to the police by telephone, and they wanted us to go there with Chen Kegui's wife, who would be hiring us and signed the document saying so," Ding said.
"I didn't agree to this, because actually I can't get in touch with her, and because their demands have no basis in law."
The uncertainty over the fate of Chen and his family comes ahead of a U.S. House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Subcommittee held a review of Chen's case in Washington later on Tuesday.
Bob Fu, founder and president of the U.S.-based Christian rights group ChinaAid, said he would be among those testifying to the committee, and that he would be raising concerns over the fate of Chen's relatives, especially Chen Kegui.
"We are mostly concerned about Chen Guangcheng's relatives, in particular his nephew, Chen Kegui," Fu said ahead of the hearing on Tuesday. "He is likely to face a retaliatory punishment."
However, Fu said he was still optimistic that Chen, his wife Yuan Weijing, and the couple's two children would eventually be allowed to leave for the United States.
Yinan county police formally detained Chen Kegui "on suspicion of deliberate homicide" last week.
Following several days of secret bilateral negotiations with U.S. officials at the end of April, China announced publicly that Chen and his family were free to apply to study overseas.
Reports have said Beijing was anxious to find an alternative to the embarrassment of a political asylum case involving one of its best-known dissidents.
U.S. officials said last week they were in contact with Chinese authorities about “concerning reports” of reprisals against Chen's family.
The State Department has also said it stands ready to expedite visa applications for Chen and his family as soon as they have the right documents.
Chen, 40, who spent four years in jail and nearly 20 months under house arrest after exposing forced abortions and sterilizations under China's draconian "one-child" policy, has been offered places as a visiting scholar by New York University and Washington University.
Reported by Qiao Long for RFA's Mandarin service and by Grace Kei Lai-see for the Cantonese service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.