BEIJING (AP) — The activist who was at the center of a diplomatic tussle between Beijing and Washington said Thursday that Chinese officials have told him the passports that he and his family just applied for should be ready within two weeks. A rights group, meanwhile, described more retaliation by authorities against his family.
From a Beijing hospital room where he remains under virtual house arrest, Chen Guangcheng said in a phone interview with The Associated Press that it remained unclear if he, his wife and their two children would be able to leave China shortly after getting their passports.
Chen made a dramatic late night escape from abusive house arrest in eastern Shandong province last month and after several days hiding from security officials in Beijing wound up in the protection of U.S. diplomats, triggering intense U.S.-Chinese negotiations on his fate.
Chen and his family are now expected to be able to travel abroad for him to study in the United States in an agreement between Beijing and Washington following days of talks.
Chinese officials who brought paperwork for Chen and his family to fill out Wednesday at the hospital said the processing time for passports is up to 15 days, Chen said.
The State Department has said that U.S. visas for Chen and his family are ready for them to travel to America once Beijing approves. Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei, in a regular briefing, would not say whether the processing of Chen's and his family's passports would be expedited.
Back in Chen's hometown, reports are emerging of more retaliation by local authorities against Chen's extended family.
In a rare videotaped interview with Hong Kong online magazine iSun Affairs on Saturday, Chen's elder brother Chen Guangfu described being tortured by men in plainclothes after Chen's escape from house arrest.
Chen Guangfu said the men cuffed his hands behind his back and shackled his feet with a chain, then slapped him several times, struck him in the ribs and stomped on his feet.
"At the beginning they asked me, 'Do you know what's happened?' and I said, 'I don't know,' and each time I said that, they slapped me," Chen Guangfu said in the interview inside his home in Dongshigu village. Chen Guangfu said the interrogation lasted three days.
Chen Guangfu's son, Chen Kegui, is now in detention, accused of attempted homicide after allegedly hacking at officials with knives after they charged into his house.
Calls to local police and Communist Party offices rang unanswered Thursday.
The AP's phone conversation with Chen was cut off before he could be asked about the latest reports of retaliation against his family.
Chen is a self-taught legal activist who 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.
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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)