The blind Chinese civil rights activist who escaped from house arrest in April says China's government needs to stop trying to "put a lid" on its problems and pretending they don't exist.
"The result is that the more you try to keep the lid on, the bigger the problems get," Chen Guangcheng told an audience Thursday at the Council on Foreign Relations in New York. "Over the last six or seven years, the law situation in China has deteriorated."
Mr. Chen fled house arrest in Shandong province to the U.S. Embassy in Beijing. The incident was resolved after tense diplomatic negotiations and the Chinese government agreed to let Mr. Chen travel to the U.S. to study law at New York University.
Since Mr. Chen's escape, his brother's family reportedly has been attacked by thugs wielding ax handles, and his nephew has been detained and charged with attempted murder.
"After I left my home in Shandong, the local authorities there have been retaliating against my family in a frenzied way," Mr. Chen said.
His nephew, Chen Kegui, has been charged with attempted murder for stabbing three of the attackers. The younger Mr. Chen has been detained with no access to a lawyer.
"My nephew, who was about to be killed if he didn't fight back, is now being accused of intentional killing," Mr. Chen said. "The moral standards are at rock bottom.
"What I am most concerned about is the state of law in China," he said.
A spokesman for the Chinese Embassy in Washington did not respond to a request for comment.
Mr. Chen, 40, said he wants to return to China after he completes his education, and hopes officials will honor their promise to investigate the treatment of his family.
"More than once they very clearly said to me that the kind of cruel and inhuman behavior that my family was subjected to in Shandong will be investigated," he said. "They made a promise to me that they are going to thoroughly investigate the Shandong authorities, so I am waiting."
China's central government took an "unprecedented" step when it allowed him to travel to the U.S. to study, he said.
"Regardless of what they did in the past, as long as they are beginning to move in the right direction we should affirm it, we shouldn't be in this habit of challenging what they are doing," he said.
Mr. Chen said his first priority in the U.S. is to get some rest.
"For the last seven years, I haven't had a weekend," he said. "So for both my body and my mental health, I need some rest."
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