The brother of blind Chinese dissident Chen Guangcheng, who is currently awaiting permission to travel to the U.S., was tortured in the immediate aftermath of Chen's daring escape from house arrest, a Hong Kong-based rights group said on Thursday.
While Chen's application for passports for himself, his wife, and their two children appeared to be under way this week, the dissident has repeatedly hit out at local officials in his home province of Shandong for revenge attacks on his extended family, prompting concern from Washington.
"Chen Guangfu, the elder brother of activist Chen Guangcheng, was reportedly tortured while in the hands of Yinan county police in Shandong Province in late April," the China Human Rights Defenders (CHRD) said in an e-mailed statement late on Wednesday.
"He is still suffering serious effects from the abuse, according to a reliable source within China," the group said.
The torture occurred after Chen Guangfu was taken to the Yinan county police department on April 27, when authorities had just discovered that the blind activist was no longer in his home, where he had been held under heavy guard since his release from prison in September 2010, CHRD said.
"Authorities handcuffed Chen Guangfu and shackled his legs, and then whipped his hands with a leather belt, struck him in the ribs, and stomped hard on his feet," the statement said.
"At this time—nearly three weeks later—Chen still reportedly has not regained any feeling in the area stretching from his left thumb through his wrist, and his right foot also remains numb," it added.
It said Chen Guangfu, who had been in touch with the outside world for the first time late on Wednesday, had been taken to an unknown location and held under "strict controls" where he was unaware of subsequent events in the family's home village of Dongshigu.
The same group of men who took him to the police station re-entered the family home later that night, severely beating Chen Guangfu's wife Ren Zongju and terrorizing his five-year-old grandchild.
The attack prompted Chen Guangcheng's nephew, Chen Guangfu's son, to pick up a chopping knife to defend the family, a response which later earned him a charge of "intentional homicide" for which he is now being held in the Yinan County Detention Center, CHRD said.
It said other relatives of Chen Guangcheng—his cousin Chen Guangcun, and Chen Guangcun’s son, Chen Hua—were also taken into custody in late April, as was a fellow villager, Liu Yuancheng. All were held for two days before being released.
Chen, whose six-day stay in the U.S. Embassy in Beijing sparked a diplomatic crisis earlier this month, telephoned a hearing of the U.S. Congress on Tuesday for the second time this month from his hospital bed in Beijing, saying that he is still concerned about the fate of his nephew, Chen Kegui.
He described a vicious attack on his nephew by local officials, adding that the charges of voluntary manslaughter leveled against Chen Kegui by local authorities were "trumped up."
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, who fell foul of local authorities after offering legal advocacy to local families threatened with violence, forced abortion, and sterilization under draconian population controls.
U.S. officials said last week they were in contact with Chinese authorities about “concerning reports” of reprisals against Chen's family.
Reported by Luisetta Mudie.