Obama Refuses Comment on Chinese Dissident

Posted April 30th, 2012 at 10:20 pm (UTC-5)
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U.S. President Barack Obama has refused to confirm whether a blind Chinese dissident, who recently escaped from house arrest in Beijing, is under U.S. protection.

In response to a reporter's question Monday, President Obama said he would not make a statement on the situation of Chen Guangcheng.

U.S. officials have expressed concern about Chen's fate, but have refused comment on his whereabouts amid unconfirmed reports he fled to the U.S. embassy in Beijing.

President Obama said he is aware of the press reports on the situation and added that every time the United States meets with China the issue of human rights comes up.

Mr. Obama's comments come days before an annual bilateral meeting in Beijing between the United States and China. U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and U.S. Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner will be leading the U.S. delegation.

Clinton echoed Mr. Obama's comments later Monday, saying she would not address Chen's case at this time. However, she said she can guarantee that human rights will be among the issues discussed during the meeting in Beijing.

The top U.S. diplomat for East Asia, Kurt Campbell, arrived in Beijing Sunday and is expected to talk with Chinese officials about Chen.

A U.S.-based China rights organization says Chen is under U.S. protection, and that talks are under way between U.S. and Chinese officials.

Speaking to VOA late Sunday, ChinaAid President Bob Fu said that while Chen is safe and at a location far from his home, the only option left for him might be to flee to the United States.

Citing sources close to Chen, Fu said more than two dozen military police arrested Chen's older brother and nephew Friday morning, the same day Chen allegedly went into U.S. protection. Those sources also say Chen's wife, daughter and mother still are under tight house arrest.

Chen, a lawyer and activist, received a four year jail sentence in 2006 after documenting abuses in China's policy on restricting the size of most families. Since 2010, he has been held under house arrest. He disappeared April 22 from a village in the eastern province of Shandong, although authorities did not realize he was missing until last Thursday. It is not clear where he went, but his friend and fellow activist Hu Jia said he believed that Chen was admitted into the U.S. embassy Friday.

In a video posted online Friday, Chen detailed the abuses he and his family have allegedly suffered in his year-and-a-half under house arrest. He also called on Chinese Prime Minister Wen Jiabao to investigate human rights abuses in China.