Chinese police have sent the criminal case involving the nephew of prominent blind human rights advocate Chen Guangcheng to the prosecution, signaling a possible trial soon, as well as continued official retribution against the activist's relatives, Chen and his family said.
Chen Kegui, the nephew, was arrested in the city of Linyi in early May and accused of attempted murder shortly after his uncle escaped more than 18 months of heavily guarded house arrest.
The family has maintained that the younger Chen injured a few officials with a kitchen knife in self-defense, when they broke into his house in the middle of the night and attacked his family after his activist-uncle ran away.
"The local authorities are now declaring war on justice and the conscience of the international community," Chen Guangcheng told CNN over the phone from the United States, where he is studying law at New York University. "They're trying to separate his case from mine, but that's impossible."
Chen Guangfu, the activist's older brother and the nephew's father, hasn't been allowed to see his incarcerated son since his arrest. He said he learned from a government-appointed lawyer that police downgraded Kegui's alleged crime from attempted murder to "intentional infliction of injury" when sending the case to the prosecution.
"There has never been any fairness in this case -- they ignored the facts and refused to let us appoint lawyers for Kegui in accordance with law," the father said. "The whole thing is their revenge against Guangcheng's escape, so I don't have any hope for a fair trial."
An official with Linyi's police department, who declined to give his name, told CNN that Chen Kegui's case is now "in the judicial process" and would not comment further. Repeated phone calls to the local prosecutor's office went unanswered Monday.
Chen Guangcheng's arrival in the United States on May 19 -- along with his wife and children -- brought an end to a diplomatic firestorm between Beijing and Washington that erupted after he fled from house arrest in Linyi in late April and hid inside the U.S. embassy in Beijing for a week.
In a video posted online after his escape, Chen addressed Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao, detailing grotesque abuses -- including repeated beatings -- he said he and his family had suffered at the hands of local authorities during captivity.
"A fair trial for Chen Kegui would be hugely embarrassing to the Linyi authorities because family-appointed lawyers would want to bring in the years of unlawful persecution of Chen Guangcheng as relevant context and background," said Nicholas Bequelin, a Hong Kong-based senior Asia researcher for Human Rights Watch. "That's what the authorities want to avoid at all cost."
Before and after leaving China, Chen Guangcheng has repeatedly said that officials from the central government have pledged a thorough investigation into his allegations against local authorities. He has also frequently expressed concern over the safety of his family members left behind.
"I think this is the test," Bequelin said of Chen Kegui's case. "As long as he is being detained in this manner without regard to law, it would be very difficult to be optimistic about the government keeping its promise to Chen Guangcheng."
In 2006 the self-taught legal activist was sentenced to four years and three months in prison for "damaging property and organizing a mob to disturb traffic." His supporters have maintained that the charges were trumped up by local officials to punish his advocacy for victims of what he called abusive practices of the country's strict family planning policy, including forced abortions and sterilizations.
Now Chen Guangcheng says Linyi authorities are handling his nephew's case almost exactly the same way as they did six years ago before his own trial.
"Kegui is becoming the second me based on the treatment he's received in the past few months," he said.