BEIJING (BP) — In a dramatic testimony by phone to a U.S. House committee Thursday, Chinese human rights advocate Chen Guangcheng made clear he wants to come to the United States and that he fears for his family’s safety.
“I want to come to the U.S. to rest. I have not had a rest in 10 years,” Chen said, according to a translation as reported by Reuters.
Chen, speaking from a hospital, also said he wanted to meet with U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
“I’m really scared for my other family members’ lives,” Chen said. “[Chinese officials] have installed seven video cameras and are in my house.”
Chen’s testimony only added to a confusing set of media reports about his situation. Earlier in the day, USA Today reported that Chen was confident that the U.S. will help him leave the country.
“I am not disappointed in the U.S. government,” Chen told the newspaper. “They made such a great effort. I am very grateful. It was under their great efforts that I got this important agreement.”
Chen also called the agreement between the countries a “breakthrough.”
“The Chinese government has promised to guarantee my civil liberties. Is this not a breakthrough? But its implementation is very important. It must be fully implemented, and this has not happened yet,” he said.
Chen, a 40-year-old self-trained lawyer who has been blind since childhood, was imprisoned and then placed under house arrest for exposing forced abortions under China’s one-child policy. In one of the most tragic examples Chen had helped uncover, the government forced a woman who was seven months pregnant to have an abortion, and then forcibly sterilized her, LifeNews.com reported.
The State Department, meanwhile, continued Thursday to say Chen left the embassy of his own volition and expressed a desire to remain in China. Though that once was his intention, Chen told CNN the imminent threat he and his family have realized means their only hope for freedom is to leave China.
In an English transcript of his remarks to CNN, Chen said he believes U.S. officials failed to protect human rights in his case, and he appealed to President Obama to “do everything you can to get our whole family out.”
Chen reiterated to CNN that he left the U.S. Embassy, where he had sought refuge, in order to receive medical care and reunite with his wife and two children at a Beijing hospital. He also feared that if he did not leave the embassy his family would be in danger.
Chen told CNN he was disappointed that no U.S. officials remained with him at the hospital overnight to ensure his safety and expressed frustration that at the time he had been unable to make contact with embassy representatives or U.S. Rep. Chris Smith, R.-N.J., a longtime supporter.
“I want them to protect human rights through concrete actions,” Chen replied when CNN asked what he wants to say to the U.S. government. “We are in danger. If you can talk to Hillary [Clinton], I hope she can help my whole family leave China … as soon as possible.”
Smith, chairman of the Congressional Executive Commission on China, held an emergency hearing on Chen Thursday (May 3) in Washington. Bob Fu of the Texas-based China Aid Association and Reggie Littlejohn of Women’s Rights Without Frontiers were among those that testified.
“Chen and his associates are at great risk if they stay in China,” Smith said in a statement May 2. “Even the hospital is a precarious place for this extraordinary human rights hero. The durable solution was, is and continues to be asylum.
“The secretary of state should visit Chen while he is in the hospital — as a direct act of solidarity — and to ensure his safety,” Smith said. “And U.S. Embassy officials should re-interview Chen and his family to ensure that comments made under duress or based on misinformation do not result in sending him back to a place where he is tortured and beaten and could easily be killed.”
Smith has been working to secure Chen’s safety for years, and the Chinese Embassy has blocked his request for a visa to visit Chen since last October, the congressman said.
Littlejohn said in a statement May 3 that the United States “should immediately grant asylum” to Chen and his family as well as to He Peirong, the activist who rescued him.
“Chen is hugely symbolic in China, the conscience of the nation,” Littlejohn wrote. “By challenging the One Child Policy, he has challenged the lynchpin of social control in China. This explains the ferocity of the Chinese Communist Party’s reaction to him.”
If the United States had granted asylum to Chen and his family and brought them safely to America from the embassy, Littlejohn said, “This would have erased a generation of anti-American propaganda and inspired gratitude, admiration and trust among the Chinese people.”
“Instead the U.S. expediently dispatched Chen out the door, shattering our moral credibility before the world and losing the hearts and minds of a generation of Chinese people who share our values,” Littlejohn wrote. “The only way to redeem the situation is as clear as it is urgent: Give asylum to Chen and his family — and to He Peirong as well. Bring them to safety in the United States, whatever it takes, on Hillary Clinton’s plane.”
Clinton has been in China this week for economic and strategy talks with Chinese leaders.
Gary Locke, the U.S. ambassador to China, recounted Thursday what transpired as Chen decided to leave the embassy.
“I can tell you that he knew the stark choices in front of him. He knew that — and was very aware that he might have to spend many, many years in the embassy,” Locke said. “… He also was fully aware of the plight of his family if he stayed in the embassy.”
The deal that the United States helped broker with China regarding Chen included his safe relocation to another part of China, and the Chinese government offered to pay for a college education at one of seven universities as well as living expenses for him and his family, Locke said. The Chinese government also agreed that while he was in the hospital, Chinese officials would listen to his complaints of abuse and conduct a full investigation.
“And so I can tell you unequivocally that he was never pressured to leave, he was excited and eager about leaving when he made his decision,” Locke recounted.
The ambassador said Chen “never asked for asylum” while in the embassy.
“He always said he wanted to stay and live in China, and wanted to go back into China and continue his work on civil rights and to pursue an education.”
Compiled by Erin Roach, assistant editor of Baptist Press, and Michael Foust, associate editor of Baptist Press. To read two previous stories about Chen’s recent ordeal, visit www.bpnews.net/bpnews.asp?id=37736 and www.bpnews.net/BPnews.asp?ID=37741. Get Baptist Press headlines and breaking news on Twitter (@BaptistPress), Facebook (Facebook.com/BaptistPress) and in your email (baptistpress.com/SubscribeBP.asp).