The Great Escape

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Media captionRelatives of blind Chinese activist Chen Guangcheng speak out

From sleeping in pigsties to sneaking past sleeping guards, new accounts emerging are making the tale of Chen Guangcheng's escape from house arrest more and more astonishing.

Just how did the blind Chen manage to evade dozens of guards stationed in rings around his home and village of Dongshigu?

This part of the story has remained murky. But now a reporter from iSun Affairs, an online magazine from Hong Kong, is the first to have managed to slip into Chen's still heavily guarded village and speak to the relatives and neighbours who helped him flee.

The account they give is incredible. It's worth me giving you a flavour of it.

With the help of his wife, Chen, it is said, first climbed over the walls of his house during the day of 20 April. When he landed on the other side he broke his foot.

Quickly he crept into a neighbour's pigsty. The magazine says he'd already planned to use it as hiding place. He stayed there until everything went quiet, and he believed it must be late at night.

In the darkness his blindness gave him an advantage over his guards. He felt his way to the Meng river running through his village, stumbling and falling, hundreds of times. He tried to cross the river but couldn't because it was too large.

So, Chen told neighbours, he simply walked across the bridge. There were guards stationed there. He couldn't believe they didn't stop him, but thinks they must have been asleep.

At 0500 he walked, covered in mud, into the next village of Xishigu. A villager found him and took him to the house of Liu Yuancheng. Chen and Liu had, it is said, become friends, after Liu was beaten by family planning officials several years before and Chen had defended his case.

Liu, the magazine says, was astonished to see Chen had escaped, and hid him. He contacted Chen's brother and sister-in-law, Chen Guangfu and Ren Zongju, who apparently didn't believe the news at first.

By the magazine's account, Chen's relatives and a neighbour called Chen Hua then contacted supporters in Beijing, and drove Chen to meet them in the city of Xintai. From there he was spirited to Beijing.

Relatives warned

It makes sense that Chen had help escaping. Real names have been used as the police have already established who assisted Chen. Several seem to have been targeted for retribution.

Chen's brother Chen Guangfu gave the iSun Affairs reporter a detailed account of the two days and three nights of the torture he says local officials inflicted on him. You can see his claims in our story, and here's a detailed account which makes grim reading.

The fate of all of the relatives and friends who helped Chen is now a real concern. Their crime, let's remember, was to help a blind man who was being illegally confined in his own home to break free.

Already, after speaking about his torture, Chen Guangfu has, according to one lawyer, been warned by local authorities that his family may not be treated leniently.

Chen Guangcheng, his wife and two children, now in Beijing, seem to be moving closer towards getting passports to leave China.

But how the Communist Party deals with those who defied it and remain in the village will be the true test of China's commitment to the rule of law, fairness and justice.