Chinese dissident and family arrive in US to recover 'in body and spirit'


CHINESE RIGHTS activist Chen Guangcheng arrived in New York with his wife and two children at the weekend, ending a month-long saga during which the blind lawyer scaled a high wall at night, travelled 400 miles to Beijing with Chinese agents in hot pursuit and took refuge in the US embassy.

“For the past seven years, I have never had a day’s rest,” Chen told a crowd outside the faculty housing complex at New York University where he and his family will live while he studies law with Chinese-speaking tutors. “So I have come here for a bit of recuperation in body and in spirit.”

Mr Chen wore a plaster cast on the foot he broke while escaping and walked with the aid of crutches. His leg was badly swollen when the US embassy in Beijing granted him temporary sanctuary in late April. He was transferred to Chaoyang Hospital after US diplomats believed they had reached an agreement with the Chinese.

The impromptu press conference in Manhattan gave Mr Chen the sort of media exposure he could only dream of in China. He thanked the US embassy and praised the Chinese government for “dealing with the situation with restraint and calm”, adding that he hoped they would “continue to open discourse and earn the respect and trust of the people”.

His liberation leaves unanswered the fate of his relatives and whether he will be allowed to return to China in the future. His nephew, Chen Kegui, is in prison in Shandong province accused of attempted murder for threatening three government agents who broke into his home after his uncle’s escape. Chen Guangfu, the dissident’s older brother, said officials chained him to a chair and beat him for three days in the hope of learning how Chen Guangcheng had escaped.

“Chen’s escape should not distract the international community from the task at hand: convincing China’s leaders to respect the human rights of all its citizens,” Frank Jannuzi, the head of Amnesty International’s Washington office, told the Washington Post.

During protracted negotiations in the Chinese foreign ministry, Mr Chen’s wife Yuan Weijing, and their children, were brought to Beijing. Mr Chen told US officials that he wanted to stay in China “to remain relevant”. He later said his family was threatened with beatings or separation from him if he did not agree to leave the embassy.

Under an initial agreement, he was to have studied law in China for two years before moving to the US. But he panicked and changed his mind after US diplomats left him at the hospital. He used three mobile telephones the Americans had given him to call journalists, friends in the US and even a congressional hearing. He said he wanted to travel to the US with secretary of state Hillary Clinton, who was on an official visit to China. When that did not happen, he accused the US government of abandoning him – a criticism repeated by the Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney.

Both governments were eager to prevent Mr Chen’s case from derailing the improvement in their relations, but the Chinese accused the US of meddling in China’s internal affairs and the issue dominated Mrs Clinton’s visit. While she met with Premier Wen Jiabao, China’s official Xinhua news agency announced that Mr Chen could apply for permission to study abroad. At Chinese insistence, his departure was portrayed as normal overseas study rather than asylum.

Chinese authorities once pointed to Mr Chen as an example of their positive treatment of the disabled. But they turned on him in 2005 when he took up the case of thousands of women who had suffered forced abortions or sterilisation. The following year, he was sent to prison on trumped-up charges.

Mr Chen was released from prison in 2010, but remained under house arrest in the village of Dongshigu.

He and his wife managed to post a video chronicling their imprisonment on the internet last year, after which he was beaten by local officials.

Chinese authorities did not want to appear to have acted under pressure and let two weeks pass after Mrs Clinton’s departure. The dissident and his family were whisked out of Beijing on very short notice, their passports delivered by Chinese authorities just before they boarded the plane. The family were driven to Beijing airport by hospital employees and were put on a United Airlines flight to Newark, New Jersey, at State Department expense.