Chen says he fears for his safety, wants to leave China
BEIJING (BP) -- Chen Guangcheng, the Chinese human rights advocate who escaped house arrest, has left the U.S. Embassy in Beijing but still fears for his safety despite statements from U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton suggesting he had secured a hopeful future.
"I am pleased that we were able to facilitate Chen Guangcheng's stay and departure from the U.S. Embassy in a way that reflected his choices and our values," Clinton said in a statement Tuesday (May 2). "I was glad to have the chance to speak with him today and to congratulate him on being reunited with his wife and children."
But in an interview with the Associated Press from a hospital room in Beijing, "a shaken Chen" said he agreed to leave the embassy when U.S. officials explained the threat to his wife and two children if he remained.
Chen, in the AP interview, appealed for further help from the United States, asking officials to help him and his family leave China safely.
Though U.S. officials had helped Chen enter the embassy and then assisted in his transition to a local hospital, no U.S. officials stayed behind at the hospital, and Chen's family feared for their safety, AP said.
Clinton, who is in China for economic and strategy talks with Chinese leaders, said Chen had secured "a number of understandings with the Chinese government about his future, including the opportunity to pursue higher education in a safe environment." She added that making the commitments Chen received from the Chinese government a reality "is the next crucial task."
"The United States government and the American people are committed to remaining engaged with Mr. Chen and his family in the days, weeks and years ahead," Clinton said.
State Department officials said Clinton was the first person to speak with Chen by phone upon his departure from the embassy, and in broken English he told her, "I want to kiss you." In the AP interview, though, Chen took issue with that account. "I told Clinton that I want to see her now," Chen said.
An update from the Texas-based China Aid Association May 2 said the group's president, Bob Fu, received phone calls from Assistant Secretary of State Mike Posner, who is traveling with Clinton and who accompanied Chen and his family to the hospital for treatment.
China Aid was skeptical of the bright future for Chen implied by the State Department. The human rights organization received reports that Chen's decision to depart the U.S. Embassy was made reluctantly because of a serious threat to his family by the Chinese government.
"We are deeply concerned about this sad development if the reports about Chen's involuntary departure [are] true," Fu said, adding, "He has the admiration of the world right now and that will perhaps help keep him safe in the short-term, but I am fearful what could happen if the world loses interest."
China Aid called on the Chinese and U.S. governments to release details of the negotiations that led to Chen's release from the U.S. Embassy in Beijing.
Chinese officials decried U.S. "interference in Chinese domestic affairs," which is "totally unacceptable to China."
"China demands that the U.S. apologize over this, thoroughly investigate this incident, punish those who are responsible and give assurances that such incidents will not recur," Liu Weimin, a spokesman for the Chinese Foreign Ministry, said, according to CNN.com.
CNN journalists who attempted to visit Chen's home village May 1 were followed and harassed by men in an unmarked car, the news network reported.
And in a YouTube video posted during his time at the embassy, Chen expressed fear for the safety of his family, including his wife who had been beaten by Chinese authorities "for hours."
Reggie Littlejohn, president of the U.S.-based Women's Rights Without Frontiers, credited a woman named He Peirong with helping Chen escape from house arrest April 22. Littlejohn said she communicated with He via Skype "on and off all Thursday night." The woman has been detained for rescuing Chen, Littlejohn said, and she has not heard from her since Friday morning.
"How did Chen escape? The Chinese Communist Party clamped down on him as hard as it could," Littlejohn said in a statement May 2. "His house was surrounded by 66 guards working in three shifts -- 22 guards every eight hours.
"His village was sealed off by yet more guards. His phone, computer and television were confiscated," Littlejohn said. "He was completely shut off from the outside world. Plus he was sick and injured from all the beatings."
Chen spent months on his back, pretending to be near death, so that the guards would relax their vigilance, He told Littlejohn.
"Then on April 22, with exquisite timing, he scaled a wall and ran for his life, taking several wrong turns and falling into a river because of his blindness," Littlejohn said. "Peirong drove 20 hours to meet Chen and fooled the village guards into letting her in. She disguised herself as a courier.
"Then she drove Chen another eight hours -- still wet from his fall in the river -- to safety in Beijing. Their plan was so masterfully executed that the authorities did not realize Chen was gone for four days."
Littlejohn, who has helped lead the international effort to secure Chen's safety, testified about Chen at the Irish Parliament in Dublin recently.
Compiled by Erin Roach, assistant editor of Baptist Press. Get Baptist Press headlines and breaking news on Twitter (@BaptistPress), Facebook (Facebook.com/BaptistPress) and in your email (baptistpress.com/SubscribeBP.asp).