NEW YORK In one of his first televised interviews since seeking refuge in the United States, former Chinese prisoner Chen Guangcheng told CNN's Anderson Cooper "the brutality was beyond anyone's imagination."
"I want to correct one thing here," Chen told CNN. "When we talk about my situation in the future, let's not use the word 'house arrest' but instead let's use the term 'illegal detention.' It's hard for me to describe what it was like during that time. But let's just say that my suffering was beyond imagination."
Chen, a blind self-taught human rights lawyer, was imprisoned for four years for helping to expose the cruelty of China's one-child policy and then was placed under strict surveillance in his home. Chen's investigation uncovered women being forced to have abortions. He escaped in April and now is in New York, where he will study law at New York University.
Recently, Chen had an opportunity to sit outdoors in freedom for the first time in several years.
"I haven't been able to feel the nature for a long time," he told CNN. "On that day I had some time to soak in the sun and feel the breeze. I just felt I hadn't been able to do that in so long. I have missed out for too long."
Chen is scheduled to speak Thursday (May 31) at the Council of Foreign Relations in New York alongside his mentor, New York University law professor Jerome Cohen, whom he met in 2003 when Chen traveled to the United States.
Bob Fu, president of the Texas-based ChinaAid Association, met with Chen in his New York apartment May 23. The two hugged tightly for a long time and spoke for three hours, ChinaAid said. The aid organization asked for prayer for Chen's family "to overcome new tough challenges after their arrival" in the United States.
In the CNN interview May 24, Chen declined to speak further about the brutality he and his wife experienced at the hands of authorities in their home village. He realizes people are concerned about him, he said, but he still needs time to gather his thoughts.
"There's one thing I want to mention that may be a surprise to many people," Chen said. "When a group of people come together and accomplish something, they often fight for credit. In my case all those people who went to Shandong to pick me up, when the news broke, they were fighting for risk instead of credit. They were all trying to claim responsibility to make others safer."
While Chen, his wife and two children are in the United States, he is "very worried" about the rest of his family and those who helped him to safety. Since his escape, retribution against his family has intensified, he said.
"In the case of my nephew Chen Kegui, when dozens of men break into someone's house with weapons in the middle of the night, taking away your parent with a hood over his head and detain him without any legal basis and then go back to assault my nephew, he only reacted when he could no longer bear the beatings and his actions would be self-defense according to any Chinese law," Chen told CNN.
"They injured his head, and made him bleed for three hours. And his clothes were shattered and the sticks they used to beat him were bent, and if actions under such circumstances was not called self-defense, would there be any meaning left in having the term self-defense in Chinese law?"
Chen was referring to the night authorities broke into his brother's home and later charged his nephew with intent to commit homicide for slashing local officials with a kitchen knife.
The New York Times reported May 28 that Chen's brother, Chen Guangfu, was back at home and "unguarded but under great pressure." Chen Guangfu had escaped detention in order to travel to Beijing to meet with a lawyer to help his son. The Times said it was unclear whether Chen's brother returned to the village by force or on his own.
"Local officials in China often send police officers to Beijing to retrieve discontented citizens who travel to the Chinese capital to try to make their grievances known to central officials," The Times said, adding that Chen himself was seized in such a way in 2005.
The Los Angeles Times May 28 described the lockdown that continues in Chen's home village even after his departure to the United States.
"At the turnoff for the sleepy farming village of Dongshigu, a man wearing a straw hat appears to be selling watermelons at a rough-hewn stand. But when an approaching car slows, burly young men dart out from behind the nearby concrete house and rush to head it off," the Los Angeles Times said.
Any sign of resistance creates an overreaction, the newspaper said, and Chen's escape has infuriated the Communist Party.
The Los Angeles Times described Chen's 19-month illegal detention in Dongshigu this way: "Chen's windows were covered with metal shutters and the perimeter cordoned off with an electric fence. Floodlights illuminated the house by night. Authorities put seven surveillance cameras at the entrance to the village and around the house and installed cellphone-jamming equipment to prevent Chen from having any contact with outsiders. Only Chen's mother was permitted in and out of the house to buy food."
ChinaAid appealed to the international community to keep focus on Chen's family in China and asked believers to intercede in prayer.
"The Chen Guangcheng incident is not yet over," ChinaAid said May 24.