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Chinese dissident Chen Guangcheng: What we know now

Activist lawyer Chen Guangcheng left the US Embassy in Beijing on Wednesday of his own volition, US and Chinese officials said, but reports quickly surfaced that he changed his mind.

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The blind lawyer told AP that a US diplomat at the hospital had relayed to him Chinese threats that his wife would have been beaten to death had he not left the embassy. US State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland denied that, telling reporters that no US official spoke to Chen “about physical and legal threats to his wife and children.”

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She acknowledged, however, that “Chinese officials did indicate Chen’s family would be returned to Shandong if Chen elected to stay in the embassy.” 

In a video released on YouTube after his escape from Shandong, Chen recounted repeated beatings that he and his wife had suffered at the hands of his guards during his detention. Fears for his wife’s safety apparently began to prey on his mind while he was in the hospital reflecting on the deal he had reached with the Chinese government.

US officials said that while he was in the embassy Chen had insisted that he wanted to stay in China, and Ms. Zeng, wife of noted HIV/Aids activist Hu Jia, said that Chen’s wife had told her that it was she who had persuaded her husband to leave the embassy in order to reunite with his family.

“On the phone tonight Chen Guangcheng told me for the first time that his whole family wanted to leave,” Zeng wrote in a Twitter post.

'Nobody from the embassy is here'

In his conversation with Channel 4, Chen seemed alarmed to find himself and his family alone in the hospital. “Nobody from the [US] embassy is here,” the station quoted him as saying. “I don’t understand why. They promised to be here.”

Mr. Teng released a transcript of his calls to Chen on Wednesday evening during which he urged the activist to reconsider his decision to stay in China, warning him that it would be “very dangerous” and suggesting that he should call the US Embassy. A little after 10:00 p.m., according to the transcript, Chen said he had tried to ring the embassy “but nobody picked up the phone.”

Foreign human rights activists had expressed surprise at the deal under which Chen was expected to be moved to a safe location in China to take up law studies, rather than go into exile. 

“There was always a possibility that he would stay, but I am not sure why anyone would take Chinese assurances at face value,” says Joshua Rosenzweig, a human rights expert in Hong Kong. “There is not much reason to do that.”

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, in Beijing for a long planned round of the US-Chinese Strategic and Economic Dialog, said after Chen’s emergence from the embassy that he had “a number of understandings with the Chinese government about his future” and that “making these commitments a reality is the next crucial task.

 “The United States government and the American people are committed to remaining engaged with Mr. Chen and his family in the days, weeks, and years ahead,” Ms. Clinton said

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