HONG KONG — Chinese prosecutors on Wednesday ordered two relatives of a prominent human rights advocate who lives in exile in the United States to face questioning over allegations that they harbored a criminal, in what one family member considered to be retaliation against the activist’s stepped-up criticism of the Chinese government.
The activist, Chen Guangcheng, won international fame in 2012 by escaping from house arrest after being held for a year and a half in Dongshigu, in Shandong Province in eastern China. Although blind, he evaded guards and surveillance cameras and clambered over walls to escape.
After his escape, Chen took refuge in the US Embassy in Beijing. He left after the Chinese government agreed to let him study at a university and to investigate his complaints that officials and their hired guards had brutally abused him and his family. Worried about reprisals, however, Chen changed his mind and asked to go to the United States; he is now studying in New York, accompanied by his wife and two children.
While Chen is safe abroad, he has said that Chinese officials and thugs have subjected his relatives in Shandong to retaliation and harassment, including recently throwing rocks and dead poultry at one brother’s home.
One nephew, Chen Kegui, was sentenced to three years and three months in jail in November for assaulting and injuring one of the officials who stormed into his home in April searching for the escaped activist. A year later, Chen Kegui’s mother and an uncle face more interrogation over the episode.
Chen Guangcheng testified before a House subcommittee on April 9. He said his relatives in China faced persecution, and he called on lawmakers to obtain and disclose details of the deal that the US and Chinese governments reached about his treatment.
Chen Guangcheng taught himself law and won nationwide attention through campaigns on behalf of farmers and disabled citizens. But officials turned on him after he took up complaints of thousands of women forcibly sterilized by family planning authorities.
In 2006, he was sentenced to 51 months in jail on charges of wrecking property and assembling a crowd to disrupt traffic, charges that he said were concocted to silence him.