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Chinese activist's escape like Hollywood thriller

By Stan Grant, CNN
April 28, 2012 -- Updated 0137 GMT (0937 HKT)
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Chen Guangcheng says his house was constantly guarded
  • He says he pretended to sleep often, guards grew inattentive
  • He was able to slip away to Beijing, but his family is being held, activists say

Beijing (CNN) -- Chen Guangcheng's voice is unwavering. For a man who has endured four years in prison and then 18 months under house arrest, he appears calm and resolute.

Chen has posted a video online, detailing his extraordinary ordeal. The blind human rights activist is finally getting a chance to tell his story after a daring escape from his captors.

"I finally escaped. All the stories about the brutal treatment I have received from the authorities, I can personally testify they are all true," he says.

To hear Chen's story, his composure becomes all the more extraordinary. This is a tale of persecution, intimidation and brutality.

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Chen, wearing black glasses, faces directly ahead and makes an appeal to China's Premier Wen Jiabao.

He asks Wen to prosecute the security team that he calls "monstrous."

"They broke into my house, and more than a dozen men assaulted my wife," Chen says. "They pinned her down and wrapped her in a blanket, beating and kicking her for hours. They similarly violently assaulted me."

Chen says his mother was violently attacked and his daughter harassed.

He says police scoffed at him. "We don't care about the law," Chen says they told him. "We ignore the law. What can you do about it?"

Chen, who activists say is seriously ill, says he was also denied medical treatment.

His bold escape is yet another chapter in a dramatic story.

He trained himself in the law and then defended the rights of poor village women against alleged forced abortions.

After organizing protests, Chen was arrested for disrupting traffic, damaging property and "pressurizing government," according to a story in 2007 from China's state-run Xinhua news agency. That same report described Chen as a "blind mob organizer."

He was imprisoned for four years and three months.

Since his release 18 months ago, his home has been vigorously guarded.

Activists say he plotted his escape carefully. Like a character from a Hollywood thriller, Chen spent months lulling his captors into a false sense of security.

He would lie on his bed for hours at a time, pretending to be asleep. The police became used to his absences and dropped their guard.

Then, just days ago, he made his getaway. He fled his home and met a group of supporters at a secret rendezvous.

He Peirong, a longtime campaigner for Chen's release, was waiting for him in a getaway car, which sped to Beijing.

"We learned that he had escaped and needed our help," He Peirong said. "That's why we went to pick him up and drove him to Beijing and kept him in a safe place."

He Peirong agreed to speak to CNN via Skype.

She said she feared for Chen's safety, often bursting into tears.

Within hours of the interview, He Peirong vanished. Other activists say she has been arrested.

She said she expected to be detained.

"I'm not concerned about my own safety. I hope they will arrest me and not my friends," He Peirong said. "When Chen told me he wants to stay in China, I told myself I was willing to stand by him no matter what happens next. Chen also said as long as he's not free, no other Chinese will feel safe."

Activists say that when police discovered Chen was gone, they swooped in on his home. Reports say there was a violent scuffle, and Chen's family is now being held.

Chinese authorities have not responded calls for comment. To the Communist Party, Chen is a criminal, an enemy of the state.

For now, Chen is free. His supporters say only that he is in a "safe place" in Beijing.

But in his video, Chen is clearly living in fear.

"Although I'm free," he says, "my worries are only deepening. My wife, mother and children are still in their evil hands. They have been persecuting my family for a long time, and my escape will only prompt more revenge."

Chen finishes his video with a plea to Wen Jiabao, calling for a full investigation.

"If you continue to ignore me," he says, "what would the public think?"

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