China's Chen Guangcheng 'unable to meet US officials'

Chen Guangcheng (C) speaks with wife Yuan Weijing (2nd R) and children as US Ambassador Gary Locke (3rd R) and US Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs Kurt Campbell (4th R) stands nearby in a Beijing hospital on 2 May 2012 Chen Guangcheng has appealed to the US president for help leaving China

Chinese dissident Chen Guangcheng says he has been unable to meet US officials to discuss his desire to leave the country.

The blind activist, in hospital in Beijing, told the BBC he believed Chinese officials were preventing US envoys from visiting him on Thursday.

After he escaped house arrest last week, Mr Chen spent six days in the US embassy before emerging on Wednesday.

The issue continues to overshadow key talks between the US and China.

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is in Beijing to attend talks focusing on North Korea and Syria.

As the talks opened, Mrs Clinton did not mention Mr Chen by name but addressed the topic of human rights.

US media are reporting that Mr Chen has asked to leave China with his family on Mrs Clinton's plane.

'Threats to family'

Over the past two days there have been a number of reports, sometimes contradictory, about exactly why Mr Chen left the embassy and what information he had been given.

Analysis

China is saying little about Chen Guangcheng.

Liu Weimin, a spokesman at a regular press briefing at the foreign ministry, would not be drawn on what deal had been offered to get the activist out of the US embassy.

He said Mr Chen's rights would be protected, but he also said the activist had been a "free citizen" when he was released from prison in 2010.

That is not the case. Mr Chen was a prisoner in his own home.

He is now worried he might face a similar fate if he stays in China.

The US ambassador to China, Gary Locke, on Thursday rejected the suggestion that Mr Chen had been pressured into leaving.

"I can tell you unequivocally that he was never pressured to leave. He was excited and eager about leaving," he said.

However, US state department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland acknowledged to reporters that "they as a family have had a change of heart about whether they want to stay in China".

She added: "We need to consult with them further, get a better sense of what they want to do, and together consider their options."

Mr Chen told the BBC by telephone from his hospital bed that since he left he has been made aware of threats issued to his wife and family at their home village in Shandong province while he was in the embassy.

"She told me our house has been installed with seven CCTV cameras inside the courtyard. There are people in and outside of our house and on the roof... They just eat and stay in our house, and they plan to build up electric wires around my house," he told the BBC.

Although he initially said he wanted to stay in China, he changed his mind because he believed China had reneged on an agreement to guarantee his safety.

A Hong Kong cable film crew was stopped trying to get to Chen Guangcheng's home village in Shandong and their car was attacked

There is no official confirmation about the nature of any such agreement, but media reports from the US suggest that Mr Chen had been promised safety in a university town elsewhere in China.

Mr Chen also said that US officials had been to the hospital where he is currently receiving treatment, but he had not seen them.

"[On Wednesday] afternoon I thought they (the US officials) left. I looked for them, but couldn't find them... Today I got to know that they were prevented from coming in, not that they are not coming in," Mr Chen said.

The BBC's Damian Grammaticas tried to get to see Mr Chen at the hospital on Thursday afternoon.

He says guards prevented him from reaching Mr Chen, with dozens of police surrounding the building.

Our correspondent says friends, lawyers and diplomats were unable to reach the activist, while US officials were waiting in the car park.

The Washington Post quoted one US official as saying: "There's plenty of anxiety about what's going on."

'Universal rights'

Mrs Clinton has previously expressed her support for Mr Chen, who has been held under house arrest for almost two years.

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 and placed under house arrest
  • Daughter barred from school during much of 2011, reports say
  • Escapes house arrest, April 2012

As the bilateral talks opened, she addressed the topic of human rights.

"The United States believes that no state can legitimately deny the universal rights that belong to every human being - or punish those who exercise them," the top US diplomat said.

President Hu Jintao, also speaking at the start of the talks, said it was not possible for China and the US to see "eye to eye on every issue".

One Chinese foreign ministry spokesman said he had "no information" on Mr Chen's request to leave China.

Chinese officials on Wednesday accused the US of interference in China's domestic affairs and demanded an apology for housing Mr Chen at the US embassy.

Mr Chen had been at the embassy for almost a week after escaping from house arrest in his village in Shandong.

He had planned his escape from house arrest for months. On 22 April, he scaled the wall the authorities had built around his house and was then driven hundreds of miles to Beijing.

ABC News quoted US officials as saying an embassy vehicle drove out to meet a car carrying Mr Chen, but the staff realised they were being followed. The two cars met hurriedly in an alleyway and Mr Chen was bundled into the US car and driven back to the embassy, ABC said.

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

The activist has spent seven years in prison or under house arrest after he exposed human rights abuses, including the way thousands of women were forced to have abortions under China's "one-child-policy".

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