A TIANANMEN Square labour activist who was wanted by Chinese police and fled to New York claims the Chinese authorities persecuted his family. Mr Zhao Pinlu, 36, a former leader of the now-defunct Beijing Autonomous Workers Federation, said his relatives were arrested, detained and tortured because they refused to reveal his whereabouts. His younger brother, Mr Zhao Pinju, was sentenced to 13 years in jail for allegedly possessing a gun which he picked up in Tiananmen Square on June 4, 1989. Although he got rid of the gun before police arrived, the 29-year-old self-employed businessman was arrested and jailed. ''My brother has had hepatitis and his condition is very poor,'' Mr Zhao, who visited his family in Beijing last summer, said. ''He was repeatedly interrogated and tortured and he is dying. ''Prison officials said they would release my brother only if I turned myself in.'' Mr Zhao said his wife's family was also persecuted. After his family visit, Mr Zhao went from Beijing to Tangshan, where his wife's family lived. ''Soon after I left Tangshan, the policemen were there questioning her family,'' he said. ''Four of them were detained and beaten up by the police who forced them to disclose my whereabouts.'' Mr Zhao topped a secret wanted list soon after the military crackdown. Another wanted ''criminal'', Mr Liu Wensheng, a 24-year-old former history student, was caught last May after three years in hiding. Mr Zhao went into hiding soon after the crackdown and escaped to Hongkong last November. He was offered political asylum by the United States a month later. In spite of his ordeal, Mr Zhao vowed to continue his fight for democracy and was hopeful that the situation in China would improve. ''Although I won't say there is a well-organised underground in China, there are many individuals and groups in the country working for that target [democracy],'' he said. ''They are the unsung heroes. When I was in hiding, I found a lot of workers were laid off by their factories when they closed down. ''China is far from what they said. There is a strong undercurrent beneath the artificial stability portrayed by the authorities.'' Mr Zhao said he intended to join the newly-formed US-based United Front for Democracy in China and may offer testimony in the United Nations Human Rights subcommission to put pressure on China to improve its human rights record.