China Activist Chen Leaving for U.S. Today, ChinaAid Says

Chen Guangcheng, the blind legal activist whose case overshadowed U.S.-China talks earlier this month, may leave for the U.S. later today with his family, according to the Texas-based Christian group ChinaAid.

Chen was on his way to Beijing airport today after being told by a government official that he and his family should prepare to depart, ChinaAid founder Bob Fu, who spoke by phone to the activist, said in an e-mail. They hadn’t received passports yet and their itinerary wasn’t known, Fu said. Later, Chen told the Associated Press that he was at the airport with his wife and two children and planned to leave.

“Thousands of thoughts are surging to my mind,” Chen told AP.

Harry Edwards, a press duty officer at the State Department in Washington, said he didn’t have any information on Chen’s situation after a spokesman for the U.S. Embassy in Beijing directed reporters to call Washington. A spokesman for the Chinese Foreign Ministry in Beijing wasn’t immediately available to comment. A mobile number said to belong to Chen was busy.

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 have been issued a passport within 15 days of his petition, Fu said in an interview in Washington on May 15.

Forced Abortions

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 accept an offer to study law at New York University.

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