Chinese Security Forces on Manhunt for Supporters of Blind Lawyer

April 29, 2012 Updated: October 1, 2015
He Peirong, the activist who picked up Chen Guangcheng
He Peirong, the activist who picked up Chen Guangcheng in her car. (Courtesy of He Peirong)

After the successful flight of Chinese rights lawyer Chen Guangcheng, Chinese authorities have begun aggressively arresting the relatives and activists who helped him make good his escape.

On April 27, human rights activist Hu Jia told foreign media that he saw Chen Guangcheng in Beijing; his wife posted photos of the meeting on Twitter.

Chen is now understood to be in the custody of U.S. officials. Assistant Secretary of State Kurt Campbell arrived in Beijing on Sunday, apparently to begin discussions with Communist Party counterparts.

After Chen escaped from his house arrest, a large police presence appeared in Chen’s hometown of Donggushi Village in Shandong Province, according to Twitter postings by China Human Rights Defenders, a nonprofit organization that researches and advocates for human rights in China.

Many of Chen’s relatives were taken away by police, including Chen’s older brother, cousin, and cousin’s sons. Chen’s nephew Chen Kegui is now on the run, after defending himself with kitchen knives against the intrusion of unidentified people to his home on the night of April 26.

“What I fear most now is that Chen Guangcheng’s relatives might be tortured and lose their lives,” Teng Biao, a well-known human rights lawyer, wrote on Twitter.

Chen’s non family supporters have already come under hard pressure.

On the afternoon of April 28, Hu Jia was taken away by Beijing police and interrogated for more than 11 hours, according to Twitter postings by Teng Biao and Hu’s wife Zeng Jinyan.

Domestic security forces, part of whose job it is to monitor and punish dissidents, borrowed the police station to interrogate him, Teng Biao said.

Hu Jia was freed from prison mid-2011 following a three-and-a-half-year sentence for “inciting subversion of state sovereignty.” He is still under one year of “deprivation of political rights,” banning him from speaking to the media or engaging in political activities. Hu Jia’s wife wrote online that she has almost become accustomed to the interrogations by domestic security police.

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He Peirong, an activist who helped Chen Guangcheng escape, was arrested at her home in Nanjing, according to Bob Fu, president of ChinaAid, in a telephone interview. He had picked Chen Guangcheng up in her car after he escaped and drove him to Beijing, according to accounts online.

Lawyer Guo Yushan, who was involved in Chen’s escape, was also interrogated by police, according to Radio France Internationale.