Officials from the eastern Chinese province of Shandong began processing a passport application for blind Chinese dissident Chen Guangcheng and his family on Wednesday in what appears to be progress in his plans to study in the United States.
But concerns remain over the fate of Chen's nephew who has been accused of murder about three weeks after Chen's escape from house arrest in Shandong, his home province, and subsequent sanctuary in the U.S. Embassy in Beijing sparked a diplomatic crisis in Sino-U.S. relations.
"Some people from the Shandong provincial police department came this morning to the hospital to process applications for all four of us," Chen told RFA's Cantonese service from his bed in Beijing's Chaoyang Hospital, where he is recovering from a broken foot.
"They went through all the formalities and then they told us that they would be able to issue a passport within 15 days," Chen said.
"They took our photos and filled out the forms. Nothing else happened," he said. "They did everything I expected them to. It was just a question of timing."
Chen has said that movement has been slow on his family's application for a passport since Beijing said he was free to study overseas, amid concerns that he may be forced to return to his hometown to complete the passport paperwork.
Chen, who was admitted to hospital after an understanding was reached between Washington and Beijing following his six-day stay in the U.S. Embassy, said in the interview that the passport application process was going "according to expectations."
Sources close to Chen had suggested that Beijing officials in charge of passport applications were trying to persuade Chen to return to his home city of Linyi, the scene of his dramatic escape from 20 months of beatings and house arrest at the hands of local officials.
Chen is planning to attend New York University and has been given relevant paperwork for the posting from U.S. officials, who have said they are prepared to issue visas for him and his family as soon as they obtain Chinese passports.
Meanwhile, Chen 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.
In a detailed account of an attack on the home of Chen Kegui in the immediate aftermath of his escape from his heavily guarded home in Dongshigu village, Chen told the House of Representatives Foreign Affairs subcommittee that Shandong local authorities were seeking revenge by filing a murder charge against his nephew.
"Those people went to beat up Chen Kegui with wooden sticks; they beat him up really badly," he said. "According to my understanding, all his clothes were ripped to shreds and he had injuries all over his face."
"He was still bleeding three hours later," Chen added.
He said that the charges of voluntary manslaughter leveled against Chen Kegui by local authorities were "trumped up."
Yinan county police formally detained Chen Kegui "on suspicion of deliberate homicide" last week.
Si Weijiang, one of the public interest lawyers currently attempting to defend Chen Kegui, declined to comment on Wednesday, when he was scheduled to arrive in Shandong.
"It's not convenient right now," Si said. "[Call me] in a day or two."
Beijing is still furious about Chen's escape from house arrest after he exposed forced abortions and sterilization under China's one-child policy.
Foreign ministry spokesman Hong Lei repeated China's criticism of Washington's handling of the Chen affair on Wednesday.
"This is a case of the United States interfering in China's internal affairs," Hong told a regular news conference in Beijing.
He called on the U.S. to "deal with the relevant personnel and apologize to China."
Bob Fu, founder and director of the U.S.-based Christian rights group ChinaAid, which has been following Chen's case closely, urged Beijing to keep its promise to allow Chen's family to leave China for the U.S.
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.
Reported by Grace Kei Lai-see for RFA's Cantonese service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.