BEIJING — Authorities in the hometown of activist Chen Guangcheng have notched up restrictions on members of his extended family while he awaits permission in Beijing to travel abroad under an agreement between China and the U.S.
Chen Guangcheng's brother and sister-in-law have been placed under house arrest, his nephew is in police detention, and several other relatives face some form of restriction on their movements in their village in Shandong province, according to Chen, his lawyers and a rights group.
Chen's flight from abusive house arrest in Shandong and into the protection of U.S. diplomats – which led to an agreement with Beijing to let him study in the U.S. accompanied by his wife and children – has exposed the impunity of local officials and embarrassed the central government.
"I feel that Shandong's retribution against me has already started," Chen said in an interview Thursday from a hospital where he is being treated for injuries suffered during his dramatic escape from his guarded farm house.
U.S. State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said Thursday the U.S. made inquiries with China and "expressed our concern should there be any sense of reprisal."
Chen's nephew, Chen Kegui, is believed to have been detained in relation to a clash with officials who reportedly broke into his home after the activist's escape in late April.
The nephew's arrest notification allegedly says he is suspected of attempted "intentional homicide," said Liu Weiguo, a lawyer who volunteered to defend Kegui but has yet to see the notification document himself. Liu said at least one local Communist Party official was injured in the April 26 fight but no one died.
Local Shandong police in the city and county overseeing Chen's village said they weren't aware of the situation with Chen's family. Communist Party publicity officials could not be reached.
Chen has said a Chinese government official promised abuses he and his family suffered from authorities in Shandong would be investigated, but it is unclear if a probe has started. The authoritarian government is often mindful of not undermining or alienating local officials on whom it relies to enforce policies.
Police in the activist's town are searching for the nephew's wife and have threatened to detain his mother, Chen Guangcheng said.
"I hope that this issue gets some attention and that lawyers are able to meet the family and have the case entrusted to them," he said. "They won't let the lawyers enter the village and won't let them interact with the family. In turn, they are taking revenge on my family like this. It is simply too outrageous."
The Chinese Human Rights Defenders network said around a dozen of Chen's relatives in the village of Dongshigu are under some form of house arrest.
"Even when the international spotlight is on Chen, his extended family has been cut off from communicating with the outside world, and his nephew is in police custody," said Wang Songlian, a researcher with the group. "What is going to happen once the spotlight shifts? It is extremely worrying."
A self-taught legal activist, Chen gained recognition for crusading for the disabled and fighting against forced abortions in his rural community. But he angered local officials and was convicted in 2006 on what his supporters say were fabricated charges. After serving four years in prison, he then faced an abusive and illegal house arrest.
Associated Press writer Bradley Klapper in Washington contributed to this report.
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In this 2005 photo provided by Joan Lebold Cohen, Chinese legal activist Chen Guangcheng, left, and his wife, Yuan Weijing, hold their son in Shandong province, China. (AP Photo/Joan Lebold Cohen)
Chinese activist activist Chen Guangcheng (L) is seen in a wheelchair pushed by a nurse at the Chaoyang hospital in Beijing on May 2, 2012. (Jordan Pouille/AFP/GettyImages)
In this file photo taken Wednesday, May 2, 2012 and released by the U.S. Embassy Beijing Press Office, blind lawyer Chen Guangcheng, center, holds hands with U.S. Ambassador to China, Gary Locke, at a hospital in Beijing. (AP Photo/U.S. Embassy Beijing Press Office, File)
In this photo released by the US Embassy Beijing Press Office, U.S. ambassador to China, Gary Locke, left, makes a phone call as he accompanies blind lawyer Chen Guangcheng, right, in a car en route from the U.S. Embassy to a hospital in Beijing, Wednesday, May 2, 2012. At center is language attache James Brown. (AP Photo/U.S. Embassy Beijing Press Office, HO)
An image featuring blind Chinese activist Chen Guangcheng is shown by a protester during a rally in front of the Chinese central government's liaison in Hong Kong Friday, May 4, 2012. (AP Photo/Vincent Yu)
In this photo released by the US Embassy Beijing Press Office, blind lawyer Chen Guangcheng, in wheel chair, meets his wife Yuan Weijing, right, daughter Chen Kesi, in blue shirt at second right, and son Chen Kerui, left, at a hospital in Beijing, Wednesday, May 2, 2012. U.S. ambassador to China, Gary Locke stands at Chen's right, and man at back in dark suit is language attache James Brown. (AP Photo/U.S. Embassy Beijing Press Office, HO)
In this photo released by the US Embassy Beijing Press Office, blind lawyer Chen Guangcheng, center, holds hands with U.S. Ambassador to China Gary Locke, right, as U.S. State Department Legal Advisor Harold Koh, left, applauds, before leaving the U.S. embassy for a hospital in Beijing Wednesday May 2, 2012. (AP Photo/US Embassy Beijing Press Office, HO)
In this undated file photo released by his supporters, blind activist Chen Guangcheng sits in a village in China. (AP Photo/Supporters of Chen Guangcheng, File)