24 May 2012

Chen Guangcheng's nephew could face death penalty

Channel 4 News Asia Correspondent John Sparks blogs on the fate of Chen Guangcheng’s family – the Chinese dissident’s nephew is in jail and could face the death penalty.

If your saw our piece on Tuesday night, you’ll know that we tried to visit the mother and four brothers of Chen Guangcheng, the blind, self-educated lawyer who was flown to safety in the United States last Saturday as part of a deal reached between China and the US.  (If you missed it, scroll down – it’s repeated below).

Mr Chen’s relatives still live in a small rural community of 200 called Dongshigu in Shandong Province in north-east China. The village is currently patrolled by a large number of non-uniformed men who act as guards and enforcers on behalf of the local government.

Since that report aired, we have heard that one of Chen Guangcheng’s brothers – Chen Guangfu – has also escaped the village. Like his brother he did so in the dead of night when the local-muscle was presumably asleep. He is now in Beijing and we have just managed to speak to a number of people who are close to him.

We were told that Chen Guangfu came to Beijing to expose what happened to his family on the night that the local guards realised that Chen Guangcheng had escaped.  Just after midnight on 27 April, the guards scaled the wall around his house and kicked open the doors. He says they put over a hood over him, took him to a police building and stomped on his feet and whipped his hands. “How did Guangcheng escape,” they asked him repeatedly.

Chen Guangfu says the guards later returned to his home and beat his wife and his 32-year-old son, Chen Kegui, with shields and truncheons. It was at this point, according to Guangfu, that his son slashed three officials with a knife in an attempt to fend them off.

Kegui has been charged with “intentional homicide” and is currently being held in prison. He could face the death penalty.

Our contacts told us that Chen Guangfu will not try to seek sanctuary at the US embassy and does not want to travel to America. We were told that he plans to return to Dongshigu later this week – although he was earlier warned that if tried to escape the village, the sentence for his son Kegui would be increased.

Chen Guangfu said members of the Chen family are forbidden from leaving Dongshigu. China’s Foreign Ministry described Chen Guangcheng as “free citizen” after he was released from jail in 2010, but recent events illustrate how local authorities are used to throttle dissent as part of China’s “stability-maintenance” program.

You can follow John on Twitter @C4sparks