Blind Chinese activist Chen Guangcheng has told how he hid in a pig sty after fleeing house arrest, before stumbling through fields with a broken foot, terrified his guards would find him and beat him to death.
Chen, whose dramatic flight to the US embassy sparked a diplomatic crisis and made headlines around the world, has until now kept many of the details of his escape under wraps to protect those who helped him.
Several of the friends, relatives and rights activists who aided his escape from his heavily guarded home in Dongshigu village in the eastern province of Shandong were subsequently detained by police, but have since been released.
Chen, who is holed up in a hospital room unable to go out or receive visitors while he waits to go to the United States with his wife and children, told AFP late Thursday he was now prepared to speak out about his escape.
The activist -- who had been held in extra-judicial house arrest ever since he was released from a four-year jail term in September 2010 -- told how he lay in bed for weeks feigning illness and observing his security guards' shift patterns.
Then on April 20, Chen decided the time was right. When the guards were not looking, his wife quickly pushed him over a wall that had been built around his small home, but he broke his foot when he landed on the other side.
Undeterred -- Chen would not know that the foot was broken until days later -- he scrambled in pain to a neighbour's pig sty where he hid until nightfall before making his way out of the village.
"I stayed in the pig sty for hours... that is when I was the most worried," said Chen -- who shot to fame for exposing rights abuses such as forced sterilisations and late-term abortions under China's population control policy.
"There were at least 60 people guarding me in the village. If they had discovered I had escaped they could have beaten me to death. At that time it was very, very dangerous."
That night, Chen made his way to Xishiguzhuang village just one kilometre (0.62 miles) away, crawling and stumbling through fields and climbing over walls in an area he thankfully knew well, fighting back the pain in his foot.
Some 20 hours after he left his home, he showed up at the door of a friend in Xishiguzhuang whose name AFP is withholding for his safety. The friend hid Chen in his home and secretly sent a message to his older brother Chen Guangfu.
"No one believed I could escape, they were shocked when they saw me," the blind activist said.
Chen Guangfu notified rights activists he knew in Beijing with a message saying "the blind man has escaped."
Meanwhile, he arranged for a car to take Chen to Xintai, the closest city outside the jurisdiction of Linyi prefecture -- which oversees Dongshigu village -- which was slightly safer territory.
Chen met up with rights activists in Xintai on April 22, he said, and was driven to Beijing where he then sought help at the US embassy four days later on April 26 -- just as reports of his escape were beginning to emerge.
It was only around then that authorities -- who until now had assumed Chen was still bed-ridden at home -- discovered he was missing. They angrily barged into Chen Guangfu's home and took him away for questioning.
The police also began beating the elder brother's wife and his son Chen Kegui, who retaliated, injuring a local official. Chen Kegui has since been arrested over the attack and remains in custody.
Chinese Human Rights Defenders, a rights group, said that police had detained and tortured Chen Guangfu on April 27, the day they broke into his house.
"Authorities handcuffed Chen Guangfu and shackled his legs, and then whipped his hands with a leather belt, struck him in the ribs, and stomped hard on his feet," the group said in a statement late Wednesday.
"The abuses against Chen Guangfu represent the most physically violent treatment to surface so far among the spate of retaliatory acts towards those with links to Chen Guangcheng after his flight from house arrest," it added.
Police also took into custody for questioning other relatives of Chen, including Chen Guangcun, Chen Hua and Ren Zongju, as well as villager Liu Yuancheng, all of whom have been since released, the rights group said.© ANP/AFP