BEIJING -- Chen Kegui, the nephew of blind human rights activist Chen Guangcheng, stood sobbing outside his village the morning a band of thugs and a local official stormed his home after learning his uncle had escaped.
Chen Kegui reportedly was beaten on the head by a wooden club, but fended the men off with a few stabs from a pair of kitchen knives. Realizing what he had done, he said he decided to turn himself in and is now waiting for the police.
"I was defending myself," Chen told Yaxue Cao, a U.S-based blogger who spoke to him that morning by phone [a transcript of the interview can be found here]. "It was they who broke into my home and raised havoc. I hope the lawyers will defend me out of reason. I hope everyone is equal in front of the law."
That may be wishful thinking considering how authorities treated Chen's uncle, a man famous for exposing forced sterilizations and abortions ordered by local officials. Chen Guangcheng was beaten, humiliated and denied freedom of movement despite never being charged with a crime during his 19 months of house arrest. His stunning escape more than a week ago has seized Sino-U.S. relations now that the dissident is believed to have found sanctuary inside the American Embassy in Beijing.
However bleak Chen Kegui's legal prospects may appear, a group of at least seven lawyers have pledged to defend the 33-year-old father from Dongshigu, a village in eastern Shandong province.
The attorneys say Chen Kegui (pronounced Kuh-gway) must be treated fairly and with transparency or otherwise nothing much will have changed in Dongshigu by successfully spiriting Chen Guangcheng to safety.
"Shandong policemen are famous for violating the law," said Liang Xiaojun, one of the volunteers and a regular defender of activists. "I don't know if Keguis rights will be protected, which is why we're getting together. We are concerned about the case and we want to help. We're hoping we can create enough publicity to pressure the relevant parties."
Another volunteer lawyer, Teng Biao, said Chen Kegui's whereabouts are still unknown. It is also unclear whether he was in the hands of police or local thugs (human rights activists argue that there's often not much difference).
The last anyone heard from Chen Kegui was Sunday, two days after the initial raid. He reportedly spoke to a lawyer, Liu Weiguo, who said Chen Kegui was panting and running away from a black car.
The specter of more collateral damage from Chen Guangcheng's brazen escape could potentially sully some of the excitement in the human rights movement.
The status of Chen Guangcheng's wife, mother and young daughter, who all lived with him, remain unknown.
"It's very difficult to say whether these people close to Chen Guangcheng are in the clear," Teng said. "We've also lost track of his brother, his cousin and his cousin's children."
He Peirong, an activist from Nanjing who drove Chen Guangcheng to Beijing, is still believed to be in police custody.
On Monday, however, authorities released Guo Yushan, a Beijing-based scholar who is said to have helped mastermind the escape.
Guo's phone rang unanswered Tuesday, but he told the Wall Street Journal a day earlier that he was treated civilly during his 50 hours of detention.
"They asked every question they could about Chen Guangcheng and wanted every detail about his escape," Guo told the newspaper.
Hu Jia, another Chen Guangcheng supporter, was detained Saturday and released 24 hours later, on Sunday evening. In a series of tweets, Hu said his interrogators asked when and where Chen Guangcheng met with the U.S. ambassador to China, Gary Locke (though there's no record of the two men ever meeting).
Hu later tweeted: "Guangcheng is already safe, we should focus more on [his] wife, mother, daughter, older brother, nephew, as well as Guo Yushan and [He Peirong]."
-- David Pierson
Photo: The Chinese activist Chen Guangchen, right, holds his son, Chen Kerui, with his wife Yuan Weijing, second from left, and his mother, left, in Shandong province, China. Credit: Associated Press