- Associated Press - Thursday, May 17, 2012

BEIJING (AP) — The activist who was at the center of a diplomatic tussle between Beijing and Washington said Thursday that Chinese officials have told him the passports that he and his family just applied for should be ready within two weeks. A rights group, meanwhile, described more retaliation by authorities against his family.

From a Beijing hospital room where he remains under virtual house arrest, Chen Guangcheng said in a phone interview with the Associated Press that it remained unclear if he, his wife and their two children would be able to leave China shortly after getting their passports.

Mr. Chen made a dramatic late-night escape from abusive house arrest in eastern Shandong province last month and, after several days hiding from security officials in Beijing, wound up in the protection of U.S. diplomats, triggering intense U.S.-Chinese negotiations on his fate.

Mr. Chen and his family now are expected to be able to travel abroad for him to study in the United States in an agreement between Beijing and Washington following days of talks.

Chinese officials who brought paperwork for Mr. Chen and his family to fill out Wednesday at the hospital said the processing time for passports is up to 15 days, Mr. Chen said.

The State Department has said that U.S. visas for Mr. Chen and his family are ready for them to travel to America once Beijing approves. Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei, in a regular briefing, would not say whether the processing of Mr. Chen’s and his family’s passports would be expedited.

Back in Mr. Chen’s hometown, reports are emerging of more retaliation by local authorities against Mr. Chen’s extended family.

In a rare videotaped interview with Hong Kong online magazine iSun Affairs on Saturday, Mr. Chen’s elder brother, Chen Guangfu, described being tortured by men in plainclothes after Mr. Chen’s escape from house arrest.

Chen Guangfu said the men cuffed his hands behind his back and shackled his feet with a chain, then slapped him several times, struck him in the ribs and stomped on his feet.

“At the beginning they asked me, ‘Do you know what’s happened?’ and I said, ‘I don’t know,’ and each time I said that, they slapped me,” Chen Guangfu said in the interview inside his home in Dongshigu village. Chen Guangfu said the interrogation lasted three days.

Chen Guangfu’s son, Chen Kegui, is now in detention, accused of attempted homicide after allegedly hacking at officials with knives after they charged into his house.

Calls to local police and Communist Party offices rang unanswered Thursday.

The AP’s phone conversation with Mr. Chen was cut off before he could be asked about the latest reports of retaliation against his family.

Mr. Chen, who is blind, is a self-taught legal activist who gained recognition for crusading for the disabled and fighting against forced abortions in his rural community. But he angered local officials and was convicted in 2006 on what his supporters say were fabricated charges. After serving four years in prison, he then faced an abusive and illegal house arrest.