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

Posted May 2nd, 2012 at 5:55 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 State Department official told reporters Wednesday that the Chinese government has agreed to relocate Chen Guangcheng to a “safe” location in China and promised to allow him to attend a university. 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 punish those responsible and give assurances that no other dissidents will be given refuge.

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

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

Chen's departure comes just hours after Secretary of State Hillary Clinton arrived in China for two days of security and economic talks that begin Thursday. Before arriving in China Tuesday, Clinton did not address Chen's case, but promised that human rights would be discussed.

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

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.