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'Revenge': Chinese activist Chen Guangcheng says nephew is a scapegoat

China Aid via AP, file

Chen Guangcheng, right, stands with his son, Chen Kerui, and wife, Yuan Weijing, in Shandong province, China. The blind activist's escape last month humiliated the country's security forces and led to a standoff with Washington after he sought protection for six days in the U.S. Embassy in Beijing.

BEIJING - Blind Chinese rights activist Chen Guangcheng said on Sunday that a nephew, arrested on charges of attempted murder, was the victim of vengeance by officials incensed at Chen's escape, which cast a global spotlight on his 19 months in house arrest.

Chen confirmed reports that his nephew Chen Kegui was arrested on charges of attempted homicide over a confrontation that erupted after officials in their home village found Chen Guangcheng had escaped, defeating a seemingly impenetrable barrier of guards, video surveillance and walls.


His escape last month humiliated China's domestic security forces and led to a standoff with Washington after Chen sought protection for six days in the U.S. embassy in Beijing.

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Chen, who is now receiving treatment in a Beijing hospital and preparing to go to the United States to study, said his nephew was a scapegoat of officials angered by Chen's audacious escape and demands that they be investigated.

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The blind Chinese dissident also asked to live in the United States with his family, after the U.S. appeared to have brokered a deal that allowed him to stay in China. NBC's Andrea Mitchell reports.

Officials in his home province of Shandong in east China were "mad right now, they are desperate and capable of anything, and this was revenge," he told Britain's Independent newspaper

"It's their final battle," he told Reuters by telephone from the Beijing hospital where he is being kept.

'They beat him savagely'
Citing descriptions from relatives, Chen said his nephew acted in self-defense, picking up a kitchen cleaver after police and guards stormed into the home of Chen's older brother, where he was staying, after midnight.

"They beat him savagely," Chen said of his nephew. "He was beaten so badly that his face was covered in blood. I heard he was beaten so badly that three hours later his face was still bleeding," Chen said.

The activist has often said he is worried that his relatives will bear the brunt of his political activities and escape from house detention.  He told The Wall Street Journal last week that he had heard of at least four family members, apart from his nephew, who being taken questioned by authorities.

Contention over the nephew is one of a bundle of uncertainties clouding Chen's plans to spend time in the United States after his audacious escape put him at the heart of international negotiations and boosted his fame as a representative of China's beleaguered "rights defense" movement. 

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Chen, a self-taught legal activist, came to national fame for campaigning for farmers and disabled citizens, and exposing forced abortions around his hometown in Shandong, where officials were under pressure to meet family planning goals. 

In 2006, Chen was sentenced to more than four years in jail on charges -- adamantly denied by his wife and lawyers -- that he whipped up a crowd that disrupted traffic and damaged property. 

Passport application
He was formally released in 2010 but remained under stifling house arrest. Officials had turned his home into a fortress of walls, security cameras and guards in plain clothes. 

Vice President Joe Biden talks with NBC's David Gregory about human rights activist Chen Guangcheng and its greater implications for the U.S.-China relationship.

Chen, 40, said he has received no word on his application for a passport, which he needs to leave for planned study at New York University. 

Officials in Yinan County, Shandong, where Chen escaped from have not answered calls from reporters about the case and the charges against the nephew, Chen Kegui. The same was true on Sunday, when police and government phones were not answered.

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Chen said that his nephew had injured, but not killed, men who invaded the village home after discovering Chen had fled, and he said his nephew acted in rightful self-defense. 

"This was fully in keeping with legitimate action under Chinese criminal law and regulations. Nobody has the power to storm over a wall into someone's home at midnight and then beat up people," said Chen. 

More China coverage on our Behind The Wall blog

He repeated his demand that the central Chinese government investigate and punish the Shandong officials whom he accuses of turning his village home into a virtual prison where and his family suffered beatings and abuse. 

Chinese authorities have confiscated a lawyer's license and threatened to do the same to another after they volunteered to defend Chen Kegui. 

Reuters and msnbc.com staff contributed to this report.

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