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Alternate Account of Chen Drama Unfolds on Twitter

May 02, 2012

Kate Woodsome

A close associate of a blind Chinese dissident who left U.S. protection in Beijing Wednesday has posted a series of notes on Twitter, saying the press has gotten the story wrong about Chen Guangcheng.

Zeng Jinyan, the wife of activist Hu Jia and a friend of Chen’s, says the dissident lawyer felt pressured to leave the U.S. embassy.

— zengjinyan (@zengjinyan) May 2, 2012

Senior U.S. officials in Beijing who helped negotiate Chen’s case say the activist left the diplomatic compound of his own free will. In a background briefing with reporters, the officials said Chen consistently stated his desire to stay and work in China.

But at about 8 p.m. in Beijing Wednesday, Zeng tweeted in English and Chinese that Chen said he and his family were willing to leave the country. However, she said he felt compelled to abandon the U.S. embassy because he feared for his family’s safety.

That account echoes an interview Chen gave the Associated Press.

VOA was unable to contact Zeng or Chen for comment, but other Western journalists who reached Zeng said she confirmed her Tweets and said she was taking a big risk by speaking with them.

Zeng also tweeted that Chen told U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton during a phone call Wednesday that he wanted to “see her,” not “kiss her,” as U.S. officials reported. A U.S. State Department spokesman dismissed the discrepancy, saying Chen was speaking in “broken English.”

That phone call was one of many Chen made while driving to a Beijing hospital with U.S. Ambassador Gary Locke after leaving the embassy. He also placed calls to members of the Western press to confirm his departure from the diplomatic compound.

Zeng says since Friday, Chen was not able to contact anyone.

The Texas-based advocacy group ChinaAid, which has been in contact with Chen since his escape, says it fears the U.S. has “abandoned Mr. Chen.”

"We are deeply concerned about this sad development if the reports about Chen's involuntary departure [from the U.S. Embassy] is true," said ChinaAid President Bob Fu in a statement.

The group is demanding the U.S. and Chinese governments release the full details of Chen’s release.

U.S. officials say Chen left the embassy after receiving guarantees from China that he would be relocated to a “safe environment” and be permitted to attend a university. Chen is a self-taught lawyer who fell out of favor with Shandong province authorities after exposing and challenging forced abortions and sterilizations, which are contrary to Chinese law.

Chen’s perilous flight from his heavily guarded home in Dongshigu village to the U.S. Embassy in Beijing has presented Washington and Beijing with their greatest test of diplomatic relations in decades. The situation was made even more delicate because of its timing. The U.S. secretary of state and other senior officials are in Beijing this week for talks that were supposed to focus on North Korea, Iran and Sudan. Instead, Chen’s human rights, an issue Clinton has long championed, became the focus of a week of flurried negotiations that the U.S. diplomats involved say left them sleepless.

When asked by reporters about Chen’s long-term safety, Deputy U.S. State Department spokesman Mark Toner told reporters in Washington Wednesday the U.S. would continue to seek access to Chen to ensure China’s commitments become a reality.

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