Activist Chen 'leaves China'

Sat, May 19, 2012, 01:00

Blind Chinese legal activist Chen Guangcheng, whose stay at the US embassy in Beijing caused a diplomatice crisis, has left China for the United States.

"We can confirm that Chen Guangcheng, his wife and two children have departed China and are en route to the United States so he can pursue studies at an American university," US state department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said in a statement.

"We are looking forward to his arrival in the United States later today. We also express our appreciation for the manner in
which we were able to resolve this matter and to support Mr Chen's desire to study in the US and pursue his  goals."

Mr Chen's escape from house arrest in northeastern China last month and subsequent refuge in the US embassy caused huge embarrassment for China, and led to a serious diplomatic rift while US secretary of state Hillary Clinton was visiting Beijing.

Today's developments came about three weeks after Mr Chen arrived at the Chaoyang Hospital from the US embassy.

Mr Chen's home confinement, his escape and the furore that ensued have made him part of China's dissident folklore: a blind prisoner outfoxing Communist Party controls in an echo of the man who stood down an army tank near Tiananmen Square in 1989.

In 2006, Mr Chen was sentenced to more than four years in jail on charges - vehemently denied by his wife and lawyers - that he whipped up a crowd that disrupted traffic and damaged property.

Mr Chen had led campaigns for farmers and disabled citizens and exposed forced abortions.

He was formally released in 2010 but remained under house arrest in his home village in northeastern Shandong province, which officials turned into a fortress of walls, security cameras and guards in plain clothes who kept Mr Chen isolated.

The village of Dongshigu, where Mr Chen's mother and other relatives remain, is still under lockdown.

The US embassy had earlier thought it had stuck a deal to allow Mr Chen to stay in China without retribution, but that fell apart as Mr Chen grew worried about his family's safety. He changed his mind about staying in China and asked to travel to the United States.

Human rights are a major factor in relations between China and the United States, even though Washington needs China's help on issues such as Iran, North Korea, Sudan and the fragile global economy.

Chen Guangcheng's nephew, Chen Kegui, was denied his family's choice of lawyers yesterday to defend a charge of "intentional homicide", the latest in a series of moves to deny him legal representation, and underscores the hardline stance taken against Mr Chen Guangcheng's family.

Earlier today, Mr Chen said the authorities' drive to "manipulate" his nephew's case would not succeed.