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Chinese Dissident Chen Joins Witherspoon Institute

Chinese Legal Activist Chen Guangcheng
Chinese legal activist Chen Guangcheng, speaking at the Council on Foreign Relations, said he is "very optimistic" that genuine democracy will come to China in his lifetime, and perhaps much sooner, as technology makes it more difficult for officials to hide misdeeds. Photographer: Don Emmert/AFP/Getty Images

Chen Guangcheng, a blind Chinese lawyer and human-rights activist, is joining the Witherspoon Institute, a research center that says it works to enhance public understanding of the moral foundations of free and democratic societies.

Chen, who fled China last year with the diplomatic intervention of then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, will be a distinguished fellow with the Princeton, New Jersey-based group, according to institute official Matthew Franck.

Chen also will be affiliated with the Catholic University of America in Washington and the Lantos Foundation for Human Rights & Justice based in Concord, New Hampshire, Franck, who is director of the institute’s William E. and Carol G. Simon Center on Religion and the Constitution, said in a phone interview ahead of a press conference tomorrow in Washington.

The Lantos Foundation, named after California Representative Tom Lantos, who died in 2008, advocates for human rights, according to its website. Earlier this year, Chen was awarded the 2012 Tom Lantos Human Rights Prize for his work promoting the rule of law in China.

Chen, a self-trained lawyer, ran into trouble with the Chinese government by representing villagers opposed to forced abortions and sterilizations. He was imprisoned for four years and then kept under house arrest in Shandong province after initiating a class-action lawsuit on behalf of village women.

His departure from China, arranged with Clinton’s help, resolved a U.S.-China dispute after he was given refuge at the American embassy in Beijing in April 2012 following his escape from home detention.

Chen arrived at New York University in May 2012 to study law under a fellowship arranged by NYU law professor Jerome Cohen, a friend and supporter.

That arrangement ended after a year, and Chen said in a statement at the time that NYU —- which is opening a campus in Shanghai —- was under pressure from the Chinese government to force him out. Both NYU and Cohen said that wasn’t the case and that his fellowship was intended to last a for a limited period.

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