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Report: Blind Dissident Wants to Leave China

May 02, 2012

VOA News

A blind Chinese activist who was sheltered in the U.S. embassy in Beijing for nearly a week has emerged. U.S. officials said China has agreed to relocate Chen Guangcheng to a "safe" location.

However, after departing the embassy, Chen told the Associated Press he wants to leave China with his family because he fears for their lives. He also said U.S. officials told him Chinese authorities would have beaten his wife to death had he not left the embassy.

Threats

In the same AP report, a top American official denied the United States told Chen about threats of violence to his family. But the official said Chen was told his family would be returned to its home province of Shandong if he did not leave the embassy.

In Washington, State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland confirmed that U.S. officials never spoke to Chen about any threats to his wife or children. But Nuland said China told U.S. officials his family would be returned to Shandong if Chen stayed at the embassy.

Earlier Wednesday, U.S. officials reported that Chen had left the embassy and was accompanied by U.S. Ambassador Gary Locke. From there, they went to a hospital where Chen was reunited with his family.

Secretary Clinton's call

A U.S. official added that Chen later spoke by phone with U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and thanked her for supporting his case.

In a separate statement, Clinton said she is pleased U.S. officials were able to facilitate Chen's stay and departure from the embassy "in a way that reflected his choices and our values."

In response, China urged the United States to stop "misleading" the public about Chen's case.

The Chen controversy is likely to overshadow high-level security and economic talks between the U.S. and China that begin Thursday. Clinton is in Beijing for the talks.

Chen, under house arrest since 2010, escaped from prison on April 22 and later took shelter inside the U.S. embassy, sparking a diplomatic standoff.

A U.S. official said earlier Wednesday Chen did not request political asylum in the United States.

China's official Xinhua news agency also reported Chen's departure from the embassy, Wednesday. It said Chen had stayed at the facility for six days before leaving "of his own volition."

China demands apology

China's foreign ministry demanded the United States apologize for taking in Chen, calling it an "unacceptable interference" in Chinese affairs. It also said the U.S. should give assurances no other dissidents will be given refuge.

Some human rights groups and activists remain skeptical the situation has been fully resolved despite Chen's departure from the embassy. Phelim Kine, a senior Asia researcher at U.S.-based Human Rights Watch, said that Chen is likely to continue speaking against China's human rights violations.

"It's very much our hope that the U.S. has carefully thought through the very real threats to the safety and well-being of Chen Guangcheng and his family and his supporters in China and has negotiated a resolution that takes those considerations into account and ensures that he will indeed be safe once he is outside of U.S. diplomatic protection," Kine said.

Kine said he would be "very surprised" if China's agreement with the U.S. allowed for potential violations of Chen's safety. But he does not think China's handling of the issue represents a softening of its treatment of dissidents.

Chen is a lawyer and human rights activist who has been blind since childhood. He was given a four-year prison sentence in 2006 for exposing abuses under China's forced abortion policy aimed at population control. He had been under house arrest since 2010, before escaping on April 22.

He posted an Internet video last week saying he, his wife, and young daughter were abused during his house arrest. He also called on Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao to investigate human rights abuses in China.

Some information for this report was provided by AP, AFP and Reuters.



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