Chinese activist pressured to leave US embassy, says friend

To protect his family, the blind legal activist agreed to leave the safety of the US embassy and stay in China, a trusted friend of Chen Guangcheng told the Monitor.
This undated photo shows blind Chinese activist Chen Guangchen, left, with his son, Chen Kerui, center, and his wife Yuan Weijing in Shandong province, China.
Jason Lee/Reuters
A diplomatic vehicle drives out of an entrance to Chaoyang Hospital, where blind activist Chen Guangcheng was reported to be staying at, in Beijing, Wednesday, May 2.

Confusion surrounded the fate of blind legal activist Chen Guangcheng Wednesday night, as a friend said he had told her he had been forced out of the US embassy here by threats against his family.

“Chen Guangcheng called me and asked for help, he wanted outsiders to help him,” Zeng Jinyan told the Monitor in a brief telephone interview. “He said that at least he wanted his whole family to leave China.”

Earlier in the day, Mr. Chen appeared to have won a signal victory, leaving the US embassy, where he had sought shelter last week, for a medical check-up amid claims by US officials that he would be free to live and study in China.

Chen had left the embassy “in a way that reflected our choices and our values,” Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said in a statement Wednesday afternoon. Chen had left “of his own volition” a Chinese foreign ministry spokesman said.

Ms. Zeng, however, the wife of well known dissident Hu Jia, said in a series of posts on her Twitter account, which she confirmed to the Monitor, that this was not true.

“Guangcheng did not want to leave the embassy but he had no choice,” she claimed in one post, since “if he did not Yuan Weijing [his wife] would be sent back to Shandong” where she and her husband have been under illegal house arrest for the past 19 months, suffering repeated beatings.

Zeng, who sounded highly stressed, refused to elaborate on her claims, which contradicted US accounts of the deal that US diplomats had helped Chen strike to secure his freedom.

“The Chinese authorities have stated that Mr. Chen and his family will be relocated to a safe environment so that he may attend a university to pursue a course of study,” a senior US official told reporters. “Mr. Chen made it clear from the beginning that he wanted to remain in China” and was not seeking asylum in the US.

The US-backed deal meant that Washington would “take a continuing interest in the well-being of Mr. Chen and his family,” the official added. “We will look to confirm at regular intervals that the commitments he has received are carried out.”

“Making these commitments a reality is the next crucial task,” said Mrs. Clinton, who is in Beijing for a long-scheduled meeting of the US-China Strategic and Economic Dialogue.

Chen had been kept under illegal house arrest by local officials in his hometown of Linyi, in Shandong province, for 19 months since his release from prison. In a video released on YouTube last week, Chen recounted repeated beatings he and his relatives had suffered at the hand of his guards.

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