China activist under US protection28/04/2012 - 09:20:18
A blind legal activist who fled house arrest in rural China is under the protection of American officials and top-level talks are taking place between the countries about his fate, a human rights group said today.
Texas-based ChinaAid said in a statement that Chen Guangcheng was under US protection in Beijing. Some activists say Mr Chen is in the US embassy after escaping from 18 months of house arrest in Shandong province earlier this week.
US and Chinese officials have refused to comment.
Blinded by fever in infancy, Mr Chen served four years in prison for exposing forced abortions and sterilisations.
Since his release in September 2010, regional authorities confined him to his home, despite the lack of legal grounds for doing so.
The whereabouts of Mr Chen could be a major political complication for the two countries as secretary of state Hillary Clinton and other top US officials are due in China this coming week for the latest round of the Strategic and Economic Dialogue.
“Chen is under US protection and high-level talks are currently under way between US and Chinese officials regarding Chen’s status,” said ChinaAid, citing a source close to the situation.
ChinaAid and its founder Bob Fu have been active in promoting Mr Chen’s case and confirmed yesterday that he had escaped to Beijing from where he was being held in his village in Shandong province in eastern China.
The US embassy in Beijing declined to comment today, as did US officials in Washington.
Chinese vice foreign minister Cui Tiankai told a briefing earlier on the upcoming talks with the US that he had no information on Mr Chen’s case.
“Your question does not come within the scope of today’s briefing. So I have no information to give you,” he said.
Mr Fu and Chinese-based activists say Mr Chen slipped away from his intensely-guarded home on the night of April 22, was driven away by activists and then handed over to others who brought him to Beijing.
Mr Chen also recorded a video as a direct address to premier Wen Jiabao, condemning the treatment of him and his family and accusing Communist Party officials by name. Activists sent the video to the overseas Chinese news site Boxun.com, which posted part of it on YouTube.
Activist Hu Jia met Mr Chen after his escape and said the people with him later called. “They said, ’He is in a 100% safe place’,” Mr Hu said.
“If they say that, I know where that place is. There’s only one 100% (safe) place in China, and that’s the US embassy.” Claims of Mr Chen’s location could not be verified.
Mr Hu’s wife, Zeng Jinyan, posted a photo on Twitter of Mr Chen and Mr Hu together. Mr Chen is wearing the same clothes he wore in the video. Both men are smiling.
Mr Chen’s escape, if ultimately successful, would boost a beleaguered civil rights community, which has faced rising arrests and other harassment over the past year.
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