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China human rights: from bad to worse

The famous blind lawyer, Chen Guangcheng, has escaped house arrest. The fight for rights in China rages on.
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In 2007 Chinese human rights activists Chen Guangcheng (in portrait, while jailed) was the recipient of the Ramon Magsaysay award for outstanding public service. (Romeo Gacad/AFP/Getty Images)

Today, Chen Guangcheng, the famous blind activist lawyer, somehow managed to evade nearly 100 guards at eight different checkpoints and flee from his home in the Shandong village of Dongshigu, where he had been under house arrest for the last 18 months.

According to media reports, it appears that he is safe at the US Embassy in Beijing. The video he made demanding that Prime Minister Wen Jiabao end the violence against his family continues to circulate the web.

It is an inspiring tale that is likely to bolster the Chinese dissident community at time when the country is reeling from its highest-profile scandal in decades, the spectacular demise of former Chongqing Party boss Bo Xilai.

But what now?

China's track record when it comes to dissident activity has gone from bad to worse in recent years, and already there are signs that while Chen may be safe, those close to him may pay a price.

More from GlobalPost: How China silences its fiercest critics

Human Rights in China, an NGO, reports that Chen's brother Chen Guangfu was taken away on Thursday.

His nephew, Chen Kegui, was also in hiding after using a kitchen knife to defend his mother from intruders led by the village chief, according to The Guardian.

Another NGO, ChinaAid, reports that He Peirong, an activist close to Chen, was arrested at her home in Nanjing, coastal Jiangsu province, on Friday morning.

Other prominent activists who have been threatened with imprisonment in China in recent years include:

  • Ai Weiwei was released on bail last June after 80 days in prison.
  • Prominent AIDS activist Hu Jia was imprisoned in 2008 for 3 1/2 years.
  • Hu's wife, Zeng Jinyan, diligently maintained a blog throughout her husband's disappearance. She was detained prior to the Beijing Olympics in 2008 and later released.
  • During his fourth prison term, Liu Xiaobo was awarded the 2010 Nobel Peace Prize for his “long and non-violent struggle for fundamental human rights in China.”

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