BEIJING – Protests against Chinese police erupted in the home village of a detained rights activist in Shandong province on Sunday, a week after Premier Wen Jiabao visited the province to promote “harmony” in the countryside.
Chen Guangcheng has been under unofficial house arrest since September when local officials sought to silence his campaign against family planning policies, which he says include forced late-pregnancy abortions.
His house is usually surrounded by guards at all times and his phone cut off.
On Sunday, farmers in Chen's Dongshigu Village protested the beating and detention of Chen Hua, a cousin and neighbour of the activist, attacking police vehicles, according to several villagers in Shandong province in coastal eastern China about 300 km (185 miles) southeast of Beijing.
Chen Guangcheng told Reuters late on Sunday he was able to briefly leave his house during the disturbances, guarded by a dozen or so sympathisers.
“The villagers are angry, because they suffer abuse from these people, as well,” he said by telephone. “It's bad enough how they're treating me, but it's too much when my neighbour also suffers just because of me.”
Chen Hua was taken away by police on Sunday, after venturing close to Cheng Guangcheng's house four days earlier and being beaten by guards after an argument, said Chen Hua's sister-in-law, Chen Xie.
Chen Hua was close to his activist cousin and has been detained before for supporting him, she told Reuters. Relatives and other residents occupied village offices late on Sunday night demanding Chen Hua's release, she said.
Another villager estimated about 200 villagers were involved in the protests on Sunday, and said some broke a window in a police van. Dozens of officers were brought in to quell the unrest, he added. He asked his name not be used.
“Villagers had a big reaction [to Chen Hua's detention],” said Chen Xie, the relative. “They say we have rights, but where are they now?” She said the family had no information or official notification of Chen Hua's whereabouts.
She said several villagers were injured, but was not sure how badly. Reuters' calls to the village office and local Shuanghou Town Police Station late on Sunday night were not answered.
Chen Guangcheng, in his mid-30s, is blind and first studied law textbooks, helped by his wife, to press his rights as a disabled citizen. He later used his expertise to advise farmers complaining about corruption and official abuses, including coercive family planning practices.
Chen's whistleblowing prompted the government to sack and detain several officials in Shandong, state media have said.
But officials from Yinan county, which runs Dongshigu, forcibly brought Chen back from Beijing last September, saying he was sharing “state secrets” with foreign journalists.
This latest incident is one of the tens of thousands of protests that Chinese police admit happen every year across the country, especially the countryside.