Blind lawyer who fled China set to join right-wing organisations

Chen jailed for four years until 2010 then kept under house arrest until fleeing after Clinton intervenetion

Chen Guangcheng, the "barefoot lawyer" who fled house arrest in China before moving to the United States, is to join three organisations, including a right-wing think tank and a Catholic organisation, after a row with Columbia University in New York.

Mr Chen, who has been blind since birth, will jointly join the Witherspoon Institute, the Catholic University of America and the Lantos Foundation for Human Rights and Justice.

The Lantos Foundation is named after Tom Lantos, a late Democratic congressman and human rights activist, while Catholic University in Washington DC is considered the national US university of the Roman Catholic Church.

However the Witherspoon Institute is sure to prove the most controversial, as the organisation, in Princeton, New Jersey, is known for its opposition to abortion and same-sex marriage.


"We're not asking him to do anything specific," Luis Tellez, Witherspoon's president, said in an interview. "The main point is he's a truth teller, he tries to tell the truth as he sees it."

Forced abortions and sterilisations were among the human rights transgressions that Mr Chen, a self-trained lawyer, wrote about as an activist in his village in Shandong province.

There was much debate during the summer among Mr Chen’s supporters about whether he was being actively courted by conservative groups who were eager to make a link between his work exposing forced abortions and sterilisations under the One Child Policy in China, and the anti-abortion movement in the US.

Mr Chen was jailed for four years until 2010, then kept under house arrest. He fled China last year after then-secretary of state Hillary Clinton intervened with the Chinese government. He joined Columbia, where he studied law. His fellowship was co-ordinated by his friend, the NYU law professor and bastion of the liberal establishment, Jerome Cohen.

However, Mr Chen's position was not renewed after a year. He said in June that he was under pressure to leave due to "unrelenting pressure" by China on the school, which is opening a Shanghai campus.

Clifford Coonan

Clifford Coonan

Clifford Coonan, an Irish Times contributor, spent 15 years reporting from Beijing