Chinese Activist Settles Into Life in US

Posted June 19th, 2012 at 5:10 am (UTC-5)
Leave a comment

One month after arriving in the United States, Chinese activist Chen Guangcheng is spending his days being tutored in English and the basics of the U.S. democratic and legal system.

Chen, his wife and two children are living in an apartment in New York's Greenwich Village provided for him by the law school of New York University, which offered him a fellowship before his departure from China. After two hours every morning learning English alongside his wife, Yuan Weijing, Chen devotes himself to studying the U.S. Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, the 236-year-old document that announced the American colonies were splitting from Britain.

The 40-year-old blind, self-taught lawyer says he plans to resume his activism by focusing on the rights of the disabled. Chen says he hopes to eventually return to China, which he believes will someday embrace individual rights and the rule of law.

The arrival of Chen and his family in the U.S. on May 19 ended a diplomatic standoff between Beijing and Washington that began with his escape from brutal house arrest in April, then taking refuge in the U.S. embassy in the Chinese capital. Chen, who had been under house arrest since 2010, was given a four-year prison sentence in 2006 for exposing abuses under China's forced abortion policy aimed at population control.

He left the embassy 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 after leaving U.S. protection, saying he did not feel safe and asked to go to the United States.

Since his arrival in the U.S., Chen has openly expressed concerns for the safety of family members in China. His nephew, Chen Kegui, has been charged with attempted murder following a clash with officials who burst into his home after discovering that his uncle had escaped.

The elder Chen has said the charges against his nephew are “absurd,” saying he was protecting himself against a “furious pack of thugs” who “brutally assaulted” his family. Chen said it is likely that Kegui has been tortured, and complained that his nephew is being forced to accept government-appointed lawyers for his defense.