Relatives of China activist lawyer depart for US

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BEIJING (AP) - The mother and brother of blind activist Chinese lawyer Chen Guangcheng flew to the U.S. Wednesday for a family reunion amid concerns for the health of another relative imprisoned in China.

Before boarding their flight in Beijing, Wang Jinxiang and Chen Guangfu said they were uncertain how long they would stay in New York, where Chen Guangcheng has lived since soon after escaping house arrest in China in April last year with his wife and two children.

However, Chen Guangfu said they would definitely return as long as his son Chen Kegui remains in prison. Chen Kegui is suffering from appendicitis and Chen Guangfu said he looked noticeably thinner during their last prison visit on April 11.

"When we asked why, he said it was because he was eating very little and because the living conditions were not so good," Chen said.

Following years of persecution and illegal detention for advising villagers on their legal rights, Chen Guangcheng eluded a security cordon around his home in east China's Shandong province and sought refuge in the U.S. Embassy in Beijing. U.S. diplomats prevailed on Chinese officials to allow him to leave for the U.S.

After a one-year fellowship at New York University, Chen now is sponsored by the Catholic University of America, the Witherspoon Institute and the Lantos Foundation for Human Rights and Justice.

Chen Kegui was sentenced to three years, three months in prison last November for attacking officials who stormed his home to search for his uncle in what was viewed as retaliation by local officials.

The family had been suffering from continuing harassment by local authorities, but Chen Guangfu said conditions had improved somewhat and Beijing's decision to allow him and his mother to travel to the U.S. appeared to be another indication that pressure on the family was being lifted.

(Copyright 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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