China activist Chen Guangcheng leaves US embassy

 
Chinese activist Chen Guangcheng (L) is seen in a wheelchair pushed by a nurse at the Chaoyang hospital in Beijing. Mr Chen is said to be happy with the arrangement

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Prominent Chinese dissident Chen Guangcheng has left the US embassy in Beijing, a week after seeking shelter following his escape from house arrest.

Mr Chen's lawyer said the activist was "happy" after receiving "clear assurances" from Beijing that he would be free to stay in China and study.

However, some friends said Mr Chen was reluctant to stay in China and chose to do so after threats to his family.

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is in Beijing for high-level talks.

Mr Chen's case has threatened to overshadow the talks, which are due to focus on issues like Syria and trade.

Mrs Clinton said the US would follow Mr Chen's fate in the long term.

Clinton message

Mr Chen was driven from the US embassy to a VIP section of Chaoyang Hospital for a check-up, before being united with his wife and two children.

He was accompanied to the hospital by US ambassador Gary Locke and other US officials.

Analysis

Chen Guangcheng has apparently been given assurances that he and his family will be moved to a "safe environment" inside China.

He told a friend that he believes he now has "true freedom" in his homeland.

But that is not assured.

China's ruling communist party does not tolerate much criticism. Activists and dissidents are routinely kept quiet.

The Nobel Peace Prize winner Liu Xiaobo is currently serving an 11-year prison sentence for suggesting political change.

So if Mr Chen continues to speak out against injustices, it is difficult to see how he will be able to live free from interference.

The US is also in a tricky position if the deal backfires. It says it will continue to monitor the activist's status.

But it will have little power to force China to stick by its promises.

Some 20 police officers ordered journalists to leave and detained one protester carrying a banner reading "Free Guangcheng. Democracy for China", Agence France-Presse news agency reported.

The BBC's Damian Grammaticas met Mr Chen's wife at the hospital. She told him that she and their two children were well.

State news agency Xinhua said Mr Chen left the embassy "of his own volition".

In a statement, Mrs Clinton said: "I am pleased that we were able to facilitate Chen Guangcheng's stay and departure from the US embassy in a way that reflected his choices and our values.

"Mr Chen has a number of understandings with the Chinese government about his future, including the opportunity to pursue higher education in a safe environment," she said.

"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."

After leaving the US embassy, the Chinese dissident had a telephone call with Mrs Clinton in which he reportedly said: "I want to kiss you."

Mr Chen's lawyer Li Jinsong said he had spoken to his client on the phone. He said Mr Chen was "very happy and wants to hug all his friends".

Mr Li said the dissident had told him he now had "true freedom", his rights were now protected by the national law and he was "a free citizen".

'Threats' to family

However, a close friend of Mr Chen told Associated Press that the dissident had chosen not to go to the US because he had been warned his wife would face recriminations if he did so.

Zeng Jinyan, herself an activist in Beijing, told the BBC she had spoken to Mr Chen and learned he had opted to stay in China to protect his family.

Chen Guangcheng

Chen Guangcheng (file photo 2006)
  • Born 12 Nov 1971
  • Nicknamed the 'Barefoot Lawyer'
  • Went blind as a child
  • Campaigned for women forced to have abortions or sterilisation under China's one child per family policy
  • Jailed for four years in 2006 for disrupting traffic and damaging property
  • Released from jail in 2010 placed under house arrest
  • Daughter barred from school during much of 2011, reports say
  • Escapes house arrest, April 2012

Ms Zeng said that Mr Chen "had no choice" because "thugs with sticks" were waiting for him and his family in their home village in Shandong province.

She said: "It's impossible, he couldn't do anything. He said, 'please help me'."

Bob Fu, of Texas-based rights advocacy group ChinaAid, said reliable sources had also told it that Mr Chen had left the embassy because serious threats to his immediate family members were made by the Chinese government.

"We are deeply concerned about this sad development if the report about Chen's involuntary departure is true," Mr Fu said.

These reports contradicted one US official, who said Mr Chen had "made clear from the beginning that he wanted to remain in China, and that he wanted his stay in the United States Embassy to be temporary".

The official, who wanted to remain anonymous, said the dissident had gone into the embassy on 26 April "requesting medical treatment from the embassy" - which had been given.

The official said China had "acknowledged that Mr Chen will be treated humanely while he remains in China.

"He has been reunited with his family - his wife and two children - at the hospital, and they remain together with him as a family. He had not seen his son in a few years, and his wife had not seen [the son] either, so this was a family reunification after a long and difficult separation."

Mrs Clinton said she was glad to have the chance to speak to Mr Chen and "to congratulate him on being reunited with his wife and children".

Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Liu Weimin earlier said Mr Chen had been taken into the US embassy "via abnormal measures", the Chinese authorities were "strongly dissatisfied", and the US should apologise.

Mr Chen, who has been blind since childhood, has long been a high-profile figure and international rights groups have frequently expressed alarm at the treatment of him and his family.

He was placed under house arrest in 2010 after spending more than four years in jail for disrupting traffic and damaging property.

Mr Chen exposed how local authorities in Linyi, in Shandong, forced thousands of women to have abortions or be sterilised as part of China's one-child policy.

Mr Chen's colleagues said the escape from house arrest had taken months to plan, and was carried out with the help of a network of friends and activists.

He scaled the wall that the authorities had built around his house, and was driven hundreds of miles to Beijing, where activists say he stayed in safe houses before fleeing to the embassy.

Several people involved in Mr Chen's escape have been detained or have disappeared in recent days.

 

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  • rate this
    +9

    Comment number 230.

    "Several people involved in Mr Chen's escape have been detained or have disappeared in recent days."

    This for me is the most worrying part of the article. Mr Chen is a high-profile person which affords him at least some 'protection'. But what of those brave people involved in his escape?

  • rate this
    -2

    Comment number 190.

    Has anyone ever considered Chen's unofficial "house arrest" by local authority was for his own safety? Some of the people he upset in high places want him gone and I'm sure the reason why he is still alive and kicking today is due to no small part by the authority who has protected him.

  • rate this
    +3

    Comment number 159.

    There's no doubt that this man would face further torture. Hilary Clinton's statements are a joke. There doesn't seem even the drop of courage to open up and defend this person.

    And Lets not even hide under the guise of "this is China's internal politics". Anyone with a humanistic instinct will defend this man. Surreptitious arguments in the name of "nation, order or security" holds no merit..

  • rate this
    -1

    Comment number 91.

    We should be concerned what happens in China & how the the world is evolving. Politics is thorny, but the world as a whole is evolving in the right direction. We unfortunately exist at a point in time of over population. Near future of numerous natural resource exhaustion, compounded with economic & political strive. Difficult, but we shall overcome & emerge closer as one humanity.

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 81.

    Honestly though I think he should ask for asylum for himself and his family. It's just too risky for him and his family to stay in China. But the reason he decided to stay there probably because he loves his country.

 

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