A foster dad has said that a disabled boy in his care was kept locked in prison for over three years after his parents were arrested and imprisoned for staging protests.
Chen Ya, who is now eight, was four years old when he was locked up after being taken away by officials in Sanzao county in the southern province of Guangdong, China.
Chen Fengqiang, his foster father, says that despite his youth, Chen Ya was kept in isolation in a windowless 40 sq ft cell until April this year.
Mr Chen says that now his foster son cannot walk very far, and his head shakes.
"He cannot talk so I do not know what happened to him. But you can imagine what it is like for a four-year-old child to be taken and shut away," he said.
"There are no bruises on his body, so I do not know whether he was abused, but if you raise your hand, he curls into a ball afraid," he added.
Mr Chen told the Telegraph that he did not know why the authorities had put the then toddler in solitary confinement, and is now in consultation with a lawyer over the boy's treatment.
Wu Kuiming, acting for Mr Chen said what had happened to the child was 'cruel'.
"This is a cruel method that the government uses when it wants to control protesters," he said. "But I do not know what they wanted to achieve by locking up a four-year-old boy."
Mr Chen, 54, and his former partner, Wei Lipei, 40, who is the boy's mother, had been in dispute with their local government for over a decade, after they campaigned against the seizure of their land.
The couple were protesting in Beijing in 2008 when Ms Wei disappeared. Chen Ya had been taken along the protests with them to 'exploit public sympathy' because of his disability.
Mr Chen has two other children by a previous partner, a 13-year-old daughter and an 11-year-old son. He said his former partner, Ms Wei, had told him that Chen Ya was not his son, but said he had not taken a paternity test so he did not know for sure.
After his mother was put in a detention centre, the couple's children were cared for by a neighbourhood committee, but Chen Ya was later taken away and put in what is thought to be an illegal detention centre.
Mr Chen himself was jailed in 2010 for two years in another city.
Lawyers had previously accompanied Mr Chen to the prison to try to free the boy, but he was not released until April.
Illegal detention centres are common in China but are routinely denied by the authorities, with one officer telling reporters that 'nothing like this would happen'.
"I have never heard of this case but I can assure you nothing like this would happen in this area," a policeman said, adding that his colleagues had never heard of the detention facility either.
Mr Chen and his foster son continue to take part in protests – on Sunday they were detained by police for 12 hours after staging a demonstration at a railway station.