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Chen's victory an isolated case, say Chinese activists

If China allows activist Chen Guangcheng to leave with his family, it will be an individual victory unlikely to usher in better treatment for other dissidents.

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He made an improbable escape from his farmhouse in eastern China two weeks ago and sought refuge in the US Embassy in Beijing. After negotiations between US and Chinese officials, Chen left the embassy under arrangements to stay in China that were supposed to guarantee his and his family's safety. But he then changed his mind, prompting more talks that resulted in Friday's tentative deal that would let him travel to the US with his family for a university fellowship.

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All this played out as Clinton, Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, and a slew of senior US officials arrived for meetings on trade tensions and global economic and political trouble spots. It also occurred as Chinese President Hu Jintao and most of his senior leadership prepare to step aside for a younger generation of leaders — a time the Communist Party is acutely wary of challenges to its authority and usually reins-in critics.

Activists said that while Chen, his wife and children are likely to find sanctuary in the United States, it is unclear what will happen to his other relatives. Authorities have already detained Chen's elder brother, and his nephew is on the run after attacking local officials who raided his house apparently in search of Chen after his escape. Chen's mother, who lived with the couple, has been under constant surveillance.

If Chen leaves, the officials who mistreated him and his family will likely not be held accountable — something Chen asked for in a video statement he made while in hiding in Beijing before entering the US Embassy.

"Chen's story is not a triumph for China's human rights, unfortunately," said Wang Songlian, a Hong Kong-based researcher with Chinese Human Rights Defenders. "Although Chen and his immediate family might gain freedom, his extended family is likely to be retaliated against.... None of those whose violence Chen exposed, or those who beat and detained Chen and his family, have been punished."

Score-settling to come?

There are concerns China will exact retribution on Chen's supporters who aided his escape, as well as friends who later tried to get the message out about his fears for his safety or publicly urged him to flee to the United States. Two supporters who helped him escape were detained, then released, but placed under gag orders and close monitoring.

Others like Chen's friend Zeng Jinyan, who — at great risk to herself — publicized Chen's worries about leaving the embassy Wednesday, have since been barred from speaking to the media and placed under house arrest. Also under similar restrictions is Teng Biao, a rights lawyer who repeatedly called Chen imploring him to flee the country, then published a transcript of their phone conversations online.

"They [the authorities] will certainly settle scores with them later," Teng told Chen, referring to the two supporters who aided Chen's escape.

Some activists say local officials who have been watching dissidents in their own jurisdictions might beef up monitoring and restrictions on them to prevent them from attempting copycat escapes into diplomatic compounds.

"One guess is that they will learn a lesson from this experience and be stricter in guarding and monitoring similar key figures and take even harder measures against them," said Mo Zhixu, a liberal-minded author and Chen supporter.

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