China has arrested several prominent activists known to be close to blind dissident Chen Guangcheng, whose daring escape has outraged authorities and led to an unexpected standoff with Washington, reported The McClatchy Tribune.
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton leaves for China today for a previously scheduled trip amid reports that Guangcheng is receiving protection at the US embassy in Bejing, according to CNN. The US has not officially confirmed the reports.
The Financial Times cited activists as saying that Chen's wife and mother had been beaten by authorities following the activist's escape from house arrest. The status of his family, including his six-year-old daughter, remains unclear.
Human rights groups earlier said Chen's brother Chen Guangfu and nephew Chen Kegui had been arrested Thursday.
Authorities also arrested longtime government critic Hu Jia, who is known to be close to Chen, on Saturday and released him Sunday night, his wife said, according to McClatchy.
He Peirong, the activist who told CNN that she was in the car with Chen as they drove to Bejing following his April 22 escape, was arrested at her Nanjing home on Friday, activist Bob Fu of the rights group China Aid told AFP.
Human rights activists are campaigning for her release, according to GlobalVoices, quoting a tweet by Hong Kong-based radio host Poon Siu To which said, "please remember this Nanjing heroine, her name is 'Pearl', He Peirong," saying "she sacrificed herself to save Chen Guangcheng."
Chen is known for his aggressive campaign against forced abortions in China, activitism that saddled him with a four-year prison sentence. After his release in 2010, he was placed under house arrest at his home in the village of Dongshigu in Shandong Provinceon charges of ruining property and disturbing traffic, said CNN.
The surprise breakout of one of the country's most famous activists has angered Chinese authorities. CNN reported today that the country's powerful Internet censors have blocked new search words, many of them code terms, that are believed tied to the famed dissident.
"Premier Wen, people cannot understand all these illegal acts," Chen is quoted by the BBC as saying in its compilation of the YouTube video extracts. "Has it been local officials who disobey the law, or have they been acting upon orders from the central government? You should give the public a clear answer very soon."
The video also shows Chen demanding that violence against his family cease.
Chen has refused offers to help him leave the country, Fu told WSJ.
Chen's video can be seen below: