The continued house arrest of blind Shandong activist Chen Guangcheng, along with his wife and small daughter, is prompting increasing criticism of the local authorities in his home county of Yinan.
Activists have mounted a campaign in recent weeks to visit Chen, who has been held at his home in Dongshigu village near Shandong's Linyi city since his release from a four-year jail term in September 2010.
Now, support for their campaign is gaining ground among intellectuals, and even finding a sympthetic ear in China's official media.
Writer Mu Rongxue remarked in a microblog post this week that the authorities in Linyi are using "bandit" tactics against Chen, a veteran civil rights activist who has helped local people complain about abuses under China's one-child family planning regime.
"What is the Shandong provincial government doing?" Mu said via the popular microblogging service Tencent Weibo. "What is Beijing doing?"
And Jia Weifang, a law professor at the prestigious Beijing University, said in an interview that he supports the campaign for Chen's freedom.
"I don't know what is going on down there in Linyi," Jia said. "This is a very valuable person they are up in arms against."
Jia called on activists to continue their attempts to visit Chen, many of which have resulted in beatings, robbery, and pursuit with dogs and guns.
"I really can't understand it," he said.
'A fuller account'
Jia's comments came as the popular Global Times tabloid, which is owned by the Communist Party's own People's Daily newspaper, called on Linyi authorities to give a fuller account of the reasons for Chen's continued house arrest to the public.
"There are a number of different views at large about whether Chen is under ‘soft detention’ and whether his household surveillance is legal," the paper said in an editorial on Thursday.
"Under these circumstances, we believe the relevant authorities of Linyi should provide sufficient information to the outside world."
The paper said that while Western media and human rights groups have been simplistic and ultimately counter-productive in the campaign for Chen, it is still up to Chinese government officials to improve and be more open about his situation.
"Now the case of Chen Guangcheng has become exaggerated into a mirror of China’s human rights, and it seems that we need more experienced authorities to lance this boil," the paper said.
Chen, 38, a self-taught lawyer who has persistently campaigned for the rights of ordinary people under China's draconian family-planning regime, was jailed for four years and three months for “damaging public property and obstructing traffic” by the Linyi municipal court in August 2006.
Chen had exposed abuses like forced abortions and sterilizations by local family planning officials under China’s “One Child” policy, as well as official harassment and attacks on families who exceeded local birth quotas.
He served the full jail term in spite of repeated requests for medical parole.
Reported by Grace Kei Lai-see for RFA's Cantonese service, and by Gao Shan for the Mandarin service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.