Known as a "barefoot lawyer", Chen Guangcheng has no formal legal training but became known as an activist who would stand up for women forced to have abortions under China's one child policy. He also represented farmers resisting land seizures by local governments and home owners trying to stop forced demolitions.
Taking on local governments, opposing their policies, is a risky business and he was jailed for four years in 2006 before being placed under strict house arrest after his release. Visitors and foreign reporters who tried to see him or interview him would be chased out of his home village, have stones throw at their cars and in some cases be beaten up. Gangs of hired thugs would be used to enforce his detention at his home. His daughter was escorted by the 'guards' to her school. Supporters would sometimes throw gifts of pens and books over the school wall for her to take home.
Now it seems Chen has managed to escape. Rumours are circulating that he's sought sanctuary inside the US Embassy in Bejing, around eight hours drive from his village. A spokesman from the US Embassy press office has told me he has "no information for you on this at this time". There has been a slightly increased police presence outside the Embassy this afternoon.
US Secretary of State Hilary Clinton is due in Bejing next week, she has called for Chen's release in the past. If he is inside then this would be a major diplomatic incident in the run up to her visit.
Chen's supporters are saying he is in a "100% safe location in Bejing".
A 15-minute video apparently filmed since he was released has been posted on the dissident website Boxun in the short film Chen makes a direct appeal to China's Premier Wen. He asks Mr Wen to arrange an investigation of local officials who he accuses of beating him up.
He says corruption within the government should be dealt with according to the law.
He asked for his family to be protected.
ITV News can not verify the content of this video.