Escaped activist appeals to the Chinese government for justice
Stephen McDonell, Beijing and wires
The Chinese activist, Chen Guangcheng, has appealed to the central government for justice after making a dramatic escape from house arrest.
Chen has released a video, making a direct appeal to the prime minister Wen Jiabao saying he and his wife have been beaten by local officials.
Chen Guangcheng - who is blind - announced his extraordinary escape in a video posted on the internet.
It's believed he scaled a high wall and was driven hundreds of kilometres to Beijing.
Chen is one of China's best known activists who exposed abuses under China's one child policy, including thousands of forced abortions and sterilisations.
He was released from prison in 2010 but had been held under house arrest ever since.
Now his supporters say they have helped the blind activist to escape.
He has now posted a message to the Chinese government on YouTube, asking authorities to protect his family and arrest the groups of men who have been assaulting his relatives.
"Even though I am now free, I am still concerned because my family -- my mother, my wife, my child are still in their hands," he said.
He also calls on the Premier Wen Jiabao to stamp out corruption in local governments.
"Premier Wen, these lawless incidents are puzzling to the people," he said.
"Are local officials and cadres abusing power on their own, or do they have the support of the centre government? I think you should give the people a clear answer on that."
Chen's exact whereabouts are unknown, but there are rumours he may have sought refuge at the US embassy.
His supporters say he is in Beijing in a "100 per cent safe location".
"He was able to get out of his home on April 22 and his friends were alerted and escorted him to a safer location outside of (his home province of) Shandong," Bob Fu, a US-based activist in close contact with Mr Chen, said.
The claim was confirmed by a China-based supporter of the lawyer.
Mr Fu was unwilling to describe the exact circumstances of Chen's escape for safety reasons, but said he had been in direct communication with the supporters who had escorted him to a safer location.
His wife, daughter and mother are thought to be still in their home in Dongshigu but this town remains a no-go zone for foreign reporters.
Mr Fu said he had been in contact with the US Congress, State Department, and the US embassy in China "to alert them and seek help for Chen Guangcheng and those who help him and are hiding him."
But he could not confirm rumours that Mr Chen was currently at the US embassy in Beijing, saying that while in hiding, Mr Chen had expressed reluctance to leave the country.
"We asked if he was willing to get out of China. He's very reluctant and he said he wants to fight to the end inside China for his citizen's rights. He wants to lead a normal life as a Chinese citizen," Mr Fu said.
A Singaporean newspaper has reported that Cheng Guangcheng is hiding inside the United States Embassy in Beijing, but embassy staff have refused to confirm or deny this.
Reporters and activists who have tried to visit Mr Chen during his house arrest have been unable to access his home, and some have even been roughed up by the thugs who stand guard at every entrance to his village.