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Chinese activist: My nephew may be being tortured

Chinese activist Chen Guancheng, center, arrives with his wife Yuan Weijing, second left, before speaking at the Council on Foreign Relations on Thursday in New York City. This was Chen's first major public engagement since he escaped confinement and left China nearly two weeks ago.
Chinese activist Chen Guancheng, center, arrives with his wife Yuan Weijing, second left, before speaking at the Council on Foreign Relations on Thursday in New York City. This was Chen's first major public engagement since he escaped confinement and left China nearly two weeks ago.Mario Tama/Getty Images

Now safely in the U.S., Chinese lawyer and dissident Chen Guangcheng says is still concerned about the family he left behind in China and suggested Thursday that his nephew is being tortured. 

Chen told an audience during a question-and-answer session at the Council on Foreign Relations in New York that since he left his village, local authorities have been retaliating against his family in a "frenzied way." 

Chen, who is blind, said that after he snuck away from de facto house arrest and fled to Beijing that about 30 hired “thugs” broke into his brother's house in the middle of the night and severely beat him and his son. His claimed his nephew is now isolated in a detention center for injuring the "thugs," who he said "had no choice but to take a kitchen knife and fight back.”





Unanswered questions


One topic was whether or not he was aware that both U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and U.S. Secretary of the Treasury Timothy Geithner were coming to Beijing when he was planning his escape from house arrest. No, Chen said. "I didn't know there was a strategic dialogue going to happen because I had been cut off from communications with everyone. I was just isolated from the rest of the world. So, that was a total coincidence." 

Asked whether he knew the U.S. Embassy would provide him refuge, Chen said: “The U.S. holds itself up as embodying democracy and human rights values. What would it mean if they refused to take me in? I think you all can imagine that. I think on the surface it seems to be a diplomatic question, but the question is:  Do you try to save someone who is in danger of his life."

He said that being in the U.S. is an opportunity to give his body and mental health a much needed rest and that he is particularly interested in studying laws that protect the disabled. He is working on his English as well. "Everything I want to do takes time, but I want to work hard," he told the audience.

Despite his ordeal, he expressed optimism about the prospect of democracy in China, saying that "his lifetime" is perhaps too big of a time frame – suggesting change in China could come sooner.

But, he said, it is unlikely to be immediate. “Many people want to move the mountain in one week,” he said. “That’s not realistic. We have to move it bit by bit. You can’t expect it to happen overnight.”

Chen ended the program with an inspirational thought. "As I see it in this world, there is nothing that is impossible. If you want to do it, think of a way to do it. There's no such thing as a difficulty that cannot be overcome.” 

Click here to read the complete transcript of Chen Guangcheng's discussion at the Council of Foreign Relations