April 28 (Bloomberg) -- Blind legal activist Chen Guangcheng escaped house arrest in eastern China and is under U.S. protection, according to a U.S.-based human rights group.
Chen fled earlier this past week from his home in Shandong province where he had been under house arrest since being released from prison in September 2010, Midland, Texas-based ChinaAid reported on its website. He is now under U.S. protection and high-level talks are taking place between the U.S. and China about his status, the group’s founder Bob Fu said in an e-mail today, citing people close to the situation that he didn’t identify. Earlier the group had said he was in a safe location in Beijing.
“Dear Premier Wen, I’ve escaped after trying so hard,” a man who claimed to be Chen and resembled him said in a video that was posted on YouTube yesterday, in a reference to Premier Wen Jiabao. “I am free now, but I am still very worried because my beloved wife and son are still under the devilish hands.”
Chen’s reported escape comes days before U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Treasury Secretary Timothy F. Geithner are due to arrive in Beijing for annual talks. In Washington, State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said yesterday that the U.S. won’t comment on the report and Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Cui Tiankai, speaking in Beijing today, said he had “no information” about Chen.
‘Defender of Freedom’
A U.S. Embassy spokesman in Beijing said he had no new information on Chen’s status when contacted by Bloomberg News today.
“This is a pivotal moment for U.S. human rights diplomacy,” Fu said in the e-mail. “Because of Chen’s wide popularity, the Obama administration must stand firmly with him or risk losing credibility as a defender of freedom and the rule of law.”
ChinaAid hopes the administration will honor Chen’s wishes, ensure his safety and make sure his family doesn’t suffer reprisals, Fu said.
The U.S. has taken up Chen’s case in the past. Clinton mentioned him in a speech in November, saying the U.S. was “alarmed” by his continued house arrest and calling on China to “embrace a different path.”
ChinaAid’s statement yesterday said Fu has been in touch with Chen’s friends and family and was told that Chen wanted to remain in China. He wants to “fight for live a normal life as a Chinese citizen with my family,” according to the statement on the group’s website.
Confined to Home
Chen was jailed for more than four years after helping villagers resist forced abortions, rights groups including the New York-based Human Rights in China say. After his release in September 2010, he and his wife were confined to their home in the village of Dongshigu.
Chen is a self-taught lawyer who was blinded by a fever in infancy, the Associated Press reported. He Peirong, an activist who has led a campaign to free Chen, picked him up and drove him to a “relatively safe place,” the AP quoted her as saying.
Human Rights in China, citing a “knowledgeable source” that it didn’t identify, said that Chen’s nephew, Chen Kegui, was taken from his home by more than 30 policemen yesterday. Chen Guangfu, Chen Guangcheng’s older brother, was taken away a day earlier, the group said in an e-mailed statement.
Five lawyers went to Dongshigu village to assist the Chen family, the organization said in an e-mailed statement dated yesterday.
Phelim Kine, senior Asia researcher at New York-based Human Rights Watch, said in a statement that Chen’s case “highlights the yawning divide between the government’s lofty rhetoric about rule of law and the far grimmer reality endured by people like Chen who challenge the status quo.”
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