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A blind, self-taught activist lawyer who documented forced abortions and other abuses was released from a Chinese prison Thursday and promptly locked down in his rural village with no access to communication, a relative said.

Chen Guangcheng, 39, is a charismatic, inspirational figure for civil liberties lawyers who have fought to enforce the rights enshrined in China's Constitution but often breached by the authoritarian government and police. Chen was imprisoned in 2006, marking the start of a government crackdown on activist attorneys.

Chen was escorted to his village Thursday morning as family members were preparing to leave to meet him at the Linyi city prison, relative Yin Dongjiang said. The family has been under heavy surveillance in recent days and authorities cut off the mobile and landline phone service for several relatives, he said.

"There's a lot of people in the village right now and the family isn't allowed to leave their home," said Yin, whose sister is married to Chen's older brother.

Chen's brother used Yin's phone, which still worked, to send a message to lawyer Teng Biao saying Chen was at home and that all telephones had been cut. Yin said he had not seen Chen and did not know what his physical condition was after the four-year prison term.

Five men in plain clothes blocked the road into Chen's village with a van and six more came running after Associated Press journalists who tried to enter the community surrounded by cornfields. After a brief scuffle with the journalists, the men jumped into their van and chased the journalists' car at high speed as they left the area.


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