New reports say Chinese authorities have begun to round up relatives and associates of blind activist Chen Guangcheng, who fled from house arrest last week.
Several people involved in Chen Guangcheng’s escape have been detained or have disappeared in recent days, and fellow activist Hu Jia is being questioned.
Chen Guangcheng, 41, is believed to be sheltering at the US embassy in Beijing.
The US and international rights groups have frequently expressed alarm at the treatment of Chen Guangcheng and his family.
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who has demanded his release in the past, is due in China this week for a previously arranged meeting which is now likely to be overshadowed by Chen Guangcheng’s case.
Chinese authorities have begun to round up relatives and associates of blind activist Chen Guangcheng, who fled from house arrest last week
The US government has not so far commented publicly on the whereabouts of Chen Guangcheng.
Analysts say the issue will be highly sensitive for both sides, and will not be easy to resolve.
If Chen Guangcheng is in the embassy, his case will raise memories of an incident in 1989 when another prominent activist, Fang Lizhi, fled to the US mission in Beijing.
He remained there for more than a year while the two sides attempted to broker a deal.
Chen Guangcheng was placed under house arrest in 2010 after spending more than four years in jail for disrupting traffic and damaging property.
He had exposed how local authorities in Linyi, Shandong province, forced thousands of women to have abortions or be sterilized as part of China’s one-child policy.
His colleagues said last Sunday’s escape had taken months to plan, and was carried out with the help of a network of friends and activists.
Chen Guangcheng scaled the wall that the authorities had built around his house, and was driven hundreds of miles to Beijing, where activists say he stayed in safe-houses before fleeing to the embassy.
His wife and six-year-old daughter remain under house arrest, but several of his family members have been detained and others are being sought by the authorities.
One of Chen Guangcheng’s friends, He Peirong – who wrote on her microblog that she had driven him to Beijing – is believed to have been detained in the city of Nanjing.
“I was actually talking to her and the last words she said were <<the PSB [Public Security Bureau] has arrived>>,” said Bob Fu, of the US-based ChinaAid pressure group.
He Peirong’s microblog was later deleted, and all searches on popular microblogging sites for Chen Guangcheng’s name and other related terms were being blocked by the censors.
On Saturday, the authorities detained Hu Jia, who had earlier said how he had met Chen Guangcheng since his escape.
Hu Jia’s wife, Zeng Jinyan, said late on Saturday that her husband’s detention had been extended for a further 24 hours.
“I asked where Hu Jia would sleep, they said on a chair,” Zeng Jinyan said.
The fate of other associates of Chen Guangcheng also remains unclear, with reports claiming several have disappeared.
The treatment of Chen Guangcheng and his family by local authorities has long been controversial.
Amnesty International regards him as a “prisoner of conscience” and has called on the authorities to end the “shameful saga” of his detention.
Blind Chinese dissident Chen Guangcheng is in the US embassy in Beijing following his dramatic escape from house arrest, said activist Hu Jia.
Hu Jia said Chen Guangcheng had scaled a high wall and was driven hundreds of kilometres to Beijing.
Other, unconfirmed, reports say Chen Guangcheng is under “US protection” while talks take place with Chinese officials.
Chen Guangcheng escaped on Sunday, activists say, and has since released a video addressed to Prime Minister Wen Jiabao.
There are reports that his brother and nephew have now been held by police.
The rights group Human Rights in China quoted a source, who knew about Chen Guangcheng, and said his nephew Chen Kegui was taken away from his home by more than 30 police officers.
Chen Guangcheng’s escape complicates already tricky relations between China and the United States and could overshadow a visit to Beijing next week by US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. She has repeatedly called for the dissident’s release.
The US state department has refused to comment on the claim that Chen Guangcheng is in its embassy. The US embassy in Beijing has also not commented.
In the latest development, the Texas-based ChinaAid group released a statement on Saturday saying it had “learned from a source close to the Chen Guangcheng situation that Chen is under US protection” in Beijing.
“High-level talks are currently under way between US and Chinese officials regarding Chen’s status,” said the group, which is led by Bob Fu, an American-based human rights campaigner and friend of Chen Guangcheng.
UN human rights chief Navi Pillay said she was concerned for the wellbeing of Chen Guangcheng and his family, who live in Dongshigu town, Shandong province.
“I’m disturbed to hear reports that other family members, including his brother Chen Guangfu and nephew Chen Kegui, have now been detained,” she said in a statement.
Unconfirmed reports say Chen Guangcheng is under "US protection" while talks take place with Chinese officials
Blogger Yaxue Cao says he spoke to Chen Kegui on Friday at about 01:30 local time, and he has transcribed the interview on his blog Seeing Red in China.
The transcript suggests that at the time of the interview Chen Guangfu had already been detained.
Chen Kegui was awaiting police arrest, having initially resisted an attempt to detain him by unidentified men less than two hours before by slashing at them with kitchen knives.
“Around midnight, about two hours ago, they entered our property by jumping over the enclosed walls, they pried open the locks and kicked on the doors. I heard my mother crying inside, helplessly: <<Please don’t come in! Please don’t come in!>>”
Chen Kegui, who often sobs during the interview, insists: “I did not take knives to go out to kill anyone. I was defending myself in my own home. They attempted to apprehend me without showing any warrant.”
The interview ends with Chen Kegui saying: “I don’t know whether the police are coming. Perhaps they will send a sniper to kill me. They would accuse me of killing. It’s all possible.”
Chen Guangcheng, 40, was placed under house arrest after being released from a four-year jail sentence in 2010. Reports suggest authorities only realized he had escaped on Thursday.
Hu Jia – a friend of Chen Guangcheng and himself a prominent activist and dissident – said he had met him in the last 72 hours, since his escape.
He said Chen Guangcheng had fled to the US embassy in Beijing.
In his video addressed to Prime Minister Wen, delivered from a darkened room, Chen Guangcheng said outwitting his guards had not been easy.
In the appeal, posted online by Boxun, a Chinese dissident news website based in the United States, he asks that:
• Prime Minister Wen investigate and prosecute local officials Chen Guangcheng says beat up his family members
• The safety of his family be ensured
• Corruption in general in China be dealt with and punished according to the law
The Chinese authorities have come under international criticism for their treatment of him. At one point his daughter was barred from school. Many sympathizers who have tried to visit his home say they have been beaten up.
A self-schooled legal activist, Chen Guangcheng is known for revealing rights abuses under China’s one-child policy and has accused officials in Shandong province of forcing 7,000 women into abortions or sterilizations.
He Peirong, another China-based activist who had also campaigned for Chen Guangcheng, has also been detained at her home in Nanjing according to other activists.
The Chen affair comes at an unwelcome time for China’s leaders, who have been embroiled in a lurid political scandal involving disgraced former party boss Bo Xilai.
• Born 12 November 1971
• Nickname: The Barefoot Lawyer
• Went blind as a child
• Campaigned for women forced to have abortions or sterilization under China’s one child per family policy
• Jailed for four years in 2006 for disrupting traffic and damaging property
• Released from jail in 2010 placed under house arrest
• Daughter barred from school during much of 2011, reports say
• Escapes house arrest, April 2012