Blind Chinese activist Chen Guangcheng should receive a passport by May 21 that would allow him to leave for the U.S., according to Bob Fu, a Texas-based Christian aid worker who is in daily touch with him.
Chen, a self-taught lawyer and prominent opponent of forced abortions under China’s one-child policy, applied for a travel document on May 6. Under Chinese regulations, he should be issued a passport within 15 days of his petition, Fu said in an interview in Washington.
“If by May 21st, there’s no movement, there will be real concern,” Fu said yesterday, after testifying at a congressional hearing during which Chen spoke by phone from a Beijing hospital. “Everything now is hanging on the passport.”
Chen, who said he is speaking daily with U.S. diplomats, told the hearing that Chinese authorities have retaliated against members of his extended family with beatings and detentions. Chen called “absurd” the homicide charges that authorities have filed against a nephew, who fought back against security officials who Chen said broke into his brother’s home and beat his family. No one died in the attack.
State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said that U.S. visas for Chen, his wife and two children have been approved and are ready whenever China acts on his request to study in America.
Asked to respond to the alleged abuses against Chen’s family, Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei reiterated China’s demand that the U.S. apologize for what he said was interference in its domestic affairs. He declined to comment on Chen’s status, saying “Chinese nationals can apply for a passport according to the law.”
Fu, founder of ChinaAid, a Texas-based Christian group, said that he is “still very optimistic that, at the end of the day, China will allow Chen and his family as normal citizens to come to the U.S.”
“Chinese leaders made the commitment to follow through and we certainly expect them to deliver” since the credibility of both the Chinese and U.S. governments is at stake, Fu said in the interview.
Chen, speaking by telephone to a House Foreign Affairs subcommittee hearing convened by Republican Representative Chris Smith of New Jersey, said he remains in daily contact with U.S. embassy officials. American diplomats have not been permitted to meet with Chen in person in more than a week and were kept waiting outside one day for eight hours, according to Fu.
Chen was imprisoned for four years and subsequently kept under extrajudicial house arrest in Shandong province after initiating a class-action lawsuit against forced abortions and sterilizations of village women. He escaped last month and fled to Beijing, where he was given shelter at the U.S. embassy just days before Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Treasury Secretary Timothy F. Geithner arrived for annual talks on U.S.- China cooperation.
Negotiations over Chen’s future drew attention to human rights violations and threatened to derail the high-level meeting. After initially departing the embassy with a Chinese promise that he would be allowed to live freely in China, Chen said he changed his mind and wanted to go to the U.S. A deal was reached for Chen to apply for a passport and take an offer to study law at New York University.
Chen said yesterday that Chinese authorities have beaten and detained members of his extended family since he escaped house arrest. The reprisals against his family members “are a total violation of Chinese law,” he said, according to Fu’s translation.
Human rights lawyer Jiang Tianyong was beaten on May 2 when he tried to visit Chen in the hospital, and authorities have threatened to revoke the visas of any foreign journalists who enter the hospital without permission, Smith said.
Chen said his immediate family is comfortable at Chaoyang Hospital, where they were reunited by Chinese authorities under pressure from the U.S. Chen said his two children are delighted to be able to play outside of the hospital, enjoying a freedom they never had in Shandong province, where his son had been taken away from the family.
Chen is still receiving medical treatment while awaiting a Chinese passport.
“All of the processing on the U.S. side has been completed,” Nuland said at a news briefing in Washington. “We are ready when he and his government are ready. We have been for more than a week now.”
Smith said in an interview that the Obama administration has “deprioritized human rights” and may have been naive to trust Chinese officials who said they would let Chen come to the U.S.
“It’s a false argument that we don’t have leverage” to pressure China on human rights, Smith said. He dismissed the notion that China, the largest foreign holder of U.S. government debt, might retaliate by ceasing to buy U.S. Treasuries.
To contact the reporter on this story: Indira A.R. Lakshmanan in Washington at firstname.lastname@example.org
To contact the editor responsible for this story: John Walcott at email@example.com