Authorities round up friends suspected of helping dissident to flee


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The Independent Online

Activists were trying yesterday to learn the fate of those who helped Chen Guangcheng in his audacious escape from house arrest and his dash to Beijing.

After months of planning by friends and allies, Mr Chen, who is blind, scaled the wall around his home in Shandong province last week and was driven hundreds of miles to the capital, where he stayed in a string of safe houses before making his way to the US embassy. Since then, many friends and associates of the legal expert have been rounded up by the authorities. While his wife and six-year-old daughter remain under house arrest, several of his relatives, including his older brother, Chen Guangfu, have been detained. Others are being sought by the authorities.

Hu Jia, a prominent Beijing-based activist, who met Mr Chen in the capital last week, was held on Saturday for about 24 hours before being released. Another friend, He Peirong is believed to have been detained in Nanjing. She wrote on her blog that she drove Mr Chen to Beijing. She could not be reached by telephone yesterday. Guo Yushan, a Beijing scholar and rights advocate who hosted Mr Chen, is also still believed to be in custody.

Ai Weiwei, the dissident artist who has himself spent time in detention, said: "It's terrible what happened to [Mr Chen], and the people who want to control like this must learn not to do this." The US actor Christian Bale also weighed in, writing to CNN that China must act now by "permanently freeing Chen Guangcheng and his family and never allowing thuggery and corruption to tarnish China's reputation again". The Batman star tried to visit Mr Chen last year but was prevented from entering the house by police.