Chen reports 'first concrete step' toward leaving China

Chinese activist Chen Guangcheng at the U.S. Embassy in Beijing, with Ambassador to China Gary Locke, right, earlier this month

Story highlights

  • Chen has completed passport forms
  • The State Department says Chen's paperwork on the U.S. side is complete
  • Chen's brother describes reprisals against family since activist's escape
  • Chen's nephew faces "trumped-up" homicide charge, Chen says via telephone

Chen Guangcheng, the Chinese human rights activist who ignited a diplomatic frenzy when he escaped house arrest last month, has received passport applications for himself and his family, he said Wednesday.

The paperwork for Chen, his wife and their two children was completed and photos were taken at the Beijing hospital room in which he has been staying since he left the U.S. Embassy two weeks ago, awaiting his travel documents. Chen said local officials from his Shandong Province in eastern China visited him Wednesday, providing him with the forms.

"It's the first concrete step forward," Chen said.

The United States says it has taken all the necessary steps on its side to admit Chen.

"We are ready when he and his government are ready," said Victoria Nuland, the U.S. State Department spokeswoman, on Tuesday. "We have been for more than a week now in terms of his visa to come pursue his studies."

China has said that Chen, who is blind, can apply to study abroad.

U.S. authorities have completed all the processing for Chen, his wife and two children to travel to the United States, where Chen has been invited to study by New York University, Nuland said at a regular briefing.

"He is continuing to work with his government," she said. "Our information is that those conversations, contacts, and processing continue."

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Nuland's comments came on the same day that U.S. lawmakers listened to Chen describing reprisals that he said his relatives continue to suffer at the hands of the authorities in Shandong.

"My elder brother was taken away by these thugs without any reasoning and then they came back and started beating up my nephew, and they used stakes and violently beat him up," Chen told the House Foreign Affairs Committee in a telephone call from his hospital room.

Chen added that his relatives' homes had been broken into and they had been beaten by people working for the government.

Chen said his nephew Chen Kegui tried to defend himself and now faces a "totally trumped-up" charge of attempted homicide.

"After my nephew was beaten up, he actually was waiting to surrender himself and the police come back again and violently beat up my sister-in-law," Chen said.

The authorities in Linyi, the city that oversees Chen's village, had issued a statement accusing Chen Kegui of injuring government officials with a knife and saying he would be dealt with according to the law. They have declined to comment on the matter since.

Chen added that he is no longer able to talk with his relatives "because all their communication tools are confiscated."

Nonetheless, CNN was able to contact Chen's elder brother, Chen Guangfu, by phone on Wednesday.

He echoed his younger brother in describing what happened following the blind activist's escape from more than 18 months of house arrest on April 22.

He said two to three dozen men scaled the wall and broke into his house after midnight, took him away and went back to beat his family, including his son Chen Kegui, who was forced to defend himself.

"If he didn't act in self-defense, he would've been dead himself," he said.

Chen Guangfu said his son surrendered himself to the police and was formally arrested on May 9. But the family hasn't been allowed to see Chen Kegui in custody. he said, and the authorities are maintaining heavy security around the family's village.

"Now we're not allowed to leave the village," he said. "It's not convenient for us to call Guangcheng or others."

Chen Guangfu said he hopes to see justice prevail in his son's case.

"Our whole family still believes in the rule of law, otherwise Kegui wouldn't have surrendered himself to the authorities," he said.

Repeated phone calls seeking comment from the local authorities rang unanswered Wednesday.

During the call to U.S. lawmakers, Chen Guangcheng thanked them for their interest in his case, saying it "shows you care about the equality and the justice. Those are universal values, and I'm very grateful to all of you."

After spending six days in the U.S. Embassy, the prominent human rights activist left for a hospital, but has since pleaded to be allowed to leave China.

Rep. Christopher Smith, R-New Jersey, described Chen's confinement to his hospital room with his wife and their two children as "virtual house arrest." Smith said Chen believes he made an oral application on Sunday to government officials for him and his family to leave the country, but he has not been notified of any action on it.

Chai Ling, founder of All Girls Allowed, told the committee members that the freedom of Chen, his wife and their two children "is not secure yet." She urged the members "to compel China to honor its own laws."

Chen said last Tuesday that he was having daily phone conversations with U.S. Embassy officials about his condition, though the Americans were still barred from regularly entering his heavily guarded hospital building.

He said representatives of China's central government had pledged to help him obtain a passport and look into the allegations of brutal treatment that he and his family say they suffered at the hands of officials in their home in Shandong province.

Chen was sentenced in 2006 to four years and three months in prison for "damaging property and organizing a mob to disturb traffic" -- charges that his supporters maintain were trumped up by the authorities to punish his legal advocacy for victims of what he called abusive family-planning policies, including forced abortions and sterilization.