Blind Activist Leaves Embassy in Beijing, to be Transferred to ‘Safe’ Location

Posted May 2nd, 2012 at 7:20 am (UTC-5)
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U.S. officials say a blind Chinese dissident who escaped house arrest and went to the U.S. embassy in Beijing has left the facility to seek medical care and be reunited with his family.

A U.S. official said Wednesday that the Chinese government has agreed to relocate Chen Guangcheng to a “safe” location in China. The official said Chen did not request political asylum in the United States.

China's official Xinhua news agency reported Chen's departure from the embassy earlier Wednesday. It said Chen had stayed at the facility for six days before leaving “of his own volition.”

China's foreign ministry demanded that the U.S. apologize for taking in Chen, calling it an unacceptable interference in Chinese affairs. It also said Washington should give assurances that no other dissidents will be given refuge.

Earlier Wednesday, an editorial in the Communist Party-affiliated Global Times downplayed the Chen incident, saying it will not affect China-U.S. relations.

Several reports have said Chen was escorted with U.S. Ambassador Gary Locke to a Beijing hospital, to be reunited with his family.

The case has overshadowed previously scheduled annual talks between Chinese and U.S. officials, who had both refused to comment on the issue before Wednesday.

Chen's departure came just hours after Secretary of State Hillary Clinton arrived in China for two days of high-level security and economic talks that begin Thursday.

Some human rights groups and activists remain skeptical that the situation has been fully resolved. Phelim Kine, a senior Asia researcher at New York-based Human Rights Watch, tells VOA that Chen is likely to continue speaking against China's human rights violations.

“”It's very much our hope that the U.S. has carefully thought through the very real threats to the safety and well-being of Chen Guangcheng and his family and his supporters in China and has negotiated a resolution that takes those considerations into account and ensures that he will indeed be safe once he is outside of U.S. diplomatic protection.”

Kine said he would be “very surprised” if China's agreement with the U.S. allowed for potential violations of Chen's safety. But he does not think China's handling of the issue represents a softening of its treatment of dissidents.

Chen is a lawyer and human rights activist who has been blind since childhood. He was given a four-year prison sentence in 2006 for exposing abuses under China's forced abortion policy aimed at population control. He had been under house arrest since 2010, before escaping on April 22.

He posted an Internet video last week saying he, his wife, and young daughter were abused during his house arrest. He also called on Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao to investigate human rights abuses in China.