BEIJING The brother of blind Chinese activist Chen Guangcheng said local officials had destroyed evidence of abuses in his village ahead of a possible investigation there over an issue which has embarrassed Beijing and threatened relations with Washington.
Chen Guangcheng's eldest brother, Chen Guangfu, told Reuters by phone that the authorities in the northeast Shandong province last Saturday night destroyed "black houses" - which he called symbols of "barbarity and tyranny" and where he said countless supporters of his brother had been beaten.
The self-taught lawyer and rights activist, Chen Guangcheng, escaped house arrest in Dongshigu village in April triggering a diplomatic crisis between Beijing and Washington after he took refuge in the U.S. embassy. He has since been allowed to go to the United States to study.
"Not a shred of evidence is left after they've destroyed everything at the scene. Everything has been moved," Chen Guangfu said.
"The two guard posts that were built specially for putting Guangcheng under house imprisonment at the entrance of the village," he said. "For the past two years, countless netizens (Internet supporters of Chen) endured violent beatings in these houses."
Now, he said, people can freely move in and out of the village after years that the two men's families were barred from leaving. Authorities had turned Chen Guangcheng's home into a fortress of walls, cameras and guards.
Chen Guangcheng has repeatedly urged the central government to investigate the rights abuses meted out unlawfully against him and his family.
After four years in jail on what he and his supporters say were trumped-up charges designed to end his activism, Chen Guangcheng was released in 2010 and put under house arrest.
Losing his sight as a child, he had accused Shandong officials in 2005 of forcing women to have late-term abortions and sterilizations to comply with China's strict family-planning policies. He was charged with whipping up a crowd that disrupted traffic and damaged property.
Chen Guangfu himself fled the village, to seek lawyers to help his son who is facing charges of "intentional homicide" for using knives to fend off officials who burst into his home after Chen Guangcheng had fled.
He recounted to Reuters details of his own torture and reprisals by authorities since his brother's escape but has since returned to his home.
Chen Guangfu told Reuters that local authorities have requested that he keep "a low profile, and that he can't accept interviews, shouldn't contact lawyers and can't meet netizens".
(This version of the story has been corrected to fix wording in last paragraph)
(Reporting by Sui-Lee Wee, Editing by Jonathan Thatcher)