Chinese Activist Leaves for US

Posted May 19th, 2012 at 2:10 pm (UTC-5)
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Chinese activist Chen Guangcheng and his family have left China on a flight headed for the United States.

The departure of the blind activist marks the end of a month-long diplomatic tussle between the two nations that followed Chen's escape from house arrest.

Chen, his wife and their two children, obtained their passports at Beijing's international airport, shortly before boarding a United Airlines flight. The flight is due to land at Newark airport, just outside New York City, Saturday evening.

The White House on Saturday welcomed the news of Chen's departure from China.

Separately, State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said U.S. officials are looking forward to Chen's arrival and appreciate the manner in which they were able to resolve the matter and “support Mr. Chen's desire to study in the U.S. and pursue his goals.”

Chen spoke to VOA Saturday as he was waiting at the airport, saying he and his family had their passports and were headed to New York, where New York University has invited him to study law.

Family friend and U.S.-based Christian activist Bob Fu, head of the organization ChinaAid, said Chen's departure demonstrates a “level of new progress.”

“We are happy for Chen and his family. This is a victorious and great day for freedom fighters like Mr. Chen.”

Chen fled to the U.S. embassy in Beijing last month after escaping from his heavily-guarded and reportedly abusive house arrest in Shandong province. The self-taught lawyer and human rights activist left the embassy and entered a hospital for treatment, after agreeing to a deal reached by U.S. and Chinese authorities that would allow him to stay in a “safe” place in China. But he changed his mind hours after leaving U.S. protection, saying he did not feel safe and asking to go to the United States.

Blind since childhood, the 40-year-old Chen was given a four-year prison sentence in 2006 for exposing abuses under China's forced abortion policy aimed at population control. After his release from prison in 2010, he was put under house arrest.

Fu called on the Chinese government to investigate what happened to Chen in his home village, and to look into local authorities' treatment of Chen's extended family members who are still there. He says Chen is worried that his family members will be subject to retaliatory actions, including violence.

Officials in Shandong province have charged Chen's nephew with attempted murder after he allegedly attacked local officials who broke into his house after discovering his uncle was missing.