US Officials: Blind China Activist Never Asked for Asylum

Posted May 3rd, 2012 at 5:40 pm (UTC-5)
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U.S. officials have dismissed reports that a blind Chinese activist who was sheltered at the U.S. Embassy in Beijing for almost a week was forced to leave.

U.S. Ambassador to China Gary Locke told reporters Thursday that Chen Guangchen had never asked for asylum and that he had chosen to stay in China after the authorities there promised safety and humane treatment for him and his family.

“Again, he's never asked for asylum, he never asked for asylum at any point while he was at the embassy, and even in his video that he released, he said he wanted to be a freedom fighter in China. And even the activist friends that he contacted before he came to the embassy reaffirmed and made all these statements that he does not want to come to United States. But the thing is, it's apparent that he's had some change of heart, we've got to deal with that, and so we want to sit down with him and his family together, his wife together, let's find out exactly what they're thinking, and let's explore the options.”

Chen left the U.S. Embassy in Beijing Wednesday shortly before U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton arrived in China for talks on boosting bilateral economic and strategic relations. He was taken to a nearby hospital to get medical treatment for a leg he injured while escaping from house arrest. Within hours he told reporters and friends that he wants to leave China because he fears for his life and for the safety of his family.

A spokeswoman for the U.S. State Department, Victoria Nuland, said U.S. officials had spoken twice with Chen and his wife on Thursday and that “they as a family have had a change of heart about whether they want to stay in China.'' She said they need to talk with Chen more and consider options.

China has denied accusations that it has threatened Chen's wife. A spokesman for the foreign ministry Liu Weimin said Chinese citizens are treated according to the country's law.

“Chen Guangcheng's wife said that a security person won't let her go home, tied her up to a chair for two days, and threatened to beat her to death. Is that normal procedure for a Chinese security person? I don't know what you are referring to, but as China is a country of law, the legitimate rights and interests of any citizen are protected by its constitution and laws. We also believe that every Chinese citizen has the obligation to abide by China's constitution and laws.”

Meanwhile China's President Hu Jintao and Secretary Clinton opened annual talks in Beijing on economic and security matters. Neither official directly mentioned the diplomatic furor in opening remarks, but Mr. Hu called on both governments to find common ground and to respect each other's differences. Clinton for her part emphasized the importance of human rights and fundamental freedoms without referring to Chen's case.

In Washington, Republican presidential challenger Mitt Romney said Thursday it would be a “day of shame” for President Barack Obama's administration if reports it failed to protect a Chinese dissident proved accurate.

In Hong Kong, Joseph Cheng, professor of political science at Hong Kong City University said Chen's situation is an embarrassment for both China and the United States.

“The whole incident puts China in a very bad light in terms of its human rights situation. It puts the American side in an unfavorable light because it was not able to help Chen Guangcheng, and the dissident apparently openly told the outside world that he believed he had been let down, and for the dissident himself, he was guaranteed his safety and freedoms and so on by the Chinese authorities, but this guarantee is certainly doubtful. The best scenario we can hope for is that he would remain safe and free from harassment if he avoids political activities. That's probably the best thing that he can hope for in the foreseeable future.”

Chen is a self-taught 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.