Washington (CNN) -- A Chinese human rights activist who ignited an international incident when he escaped house arrest last month told U.S. lawmakers Tuesday that his relatives continue to suffer government reprisals.
"My elder brother was taken away by these thugs without any reasoning and then they came back and started beating up my nephew and they used stakes and violently beat him up," Chen Guangcheng told the House Foreign Affairs Committee in a telephone call from his hospital room in Beijing.
Chen added that his relatives' homes had been broken into and they had been beaten by government thugs.
Chen said his nephew Chen Kegui tried to defend himself and now faces a "totally trumped-up" charge of homicide.
"After my nephew was beaten up, he actually was waiting to surrender himself and the police come back again and violently beat up my sister-in-law," Chen said.
He added that he is no longer able to talk with his relatives "because all their communication tools are confiscated."
Chen thanked the lawmakers for their interest in his case, saying it "shows you care about the equality and the justice. Those are universal values, and I'm very grateful to all of you."
Last month, Chen, who is blind, escaped more than 18 months of house arrest in eastern China.
After spending six days in the U.S. Embassy, the prominent human rights activist left for a hospital, but has since pleaded to be allowed to leave China.
Rep. Christopher Smith, R-New Jersey, described Chen's confinement to his hospital room with his wife and their two children as "virtual house arrest." Smith said Chen believes he made an oral application on Sunday to government officials for him and his family to leave the country, but he has not been notified of any action on it.
Chai Ling, founder of All Girls Allowed, told the committee members that the freedom of Chen, his wife and their two children "is not secure yet." She urged the members "to compel China to honor its own laws."
Chen said last Tuesday that he was having daily phone conversations with U.S. Embassy officials about his condition, though the Americans were still barred from regularly entering his heavily guarded hospital building.
He said representatives of China's central government had pledged to help him obtain a passport and look into the allegations of brutal treatment that he and his family say they suffered at the hands of officials in their home in Shandong province.
The Chinese authorities have said that Chen could apply to study abroad. New York University has invited Chen to be a visiting scholar, working with its law programs.
Chen was sentenced in 2006 to four years and three months in prison for "damaging property and organizing a mob to disturb traffic" -- charges that his supporters maintain were trumped up by the authorities to punish his legal advocacy for victims of what he called abusive family-planning policies, including forced abortions and sterilization.
China's state-run Xinhua News Agency published no immediate reaction to Chen's comments.