China's Chen phones US congress, urges protection
Beijing: Pleading for help, blind Chinese activist Chen Guangcheng telephoned a US Congressional hearing and expressed his wish to meet visiting US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
Chen, who is at the centre of a diplomatic standoff between the United States and China, made a plea for US protection from his hospital bed in Beijing.
Hillary and Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner are in the Chinese capital for annual bilateral trade and strategy talks.
"I want to come to the US to rest. I have not had a rest in 10 years," Chen said by phone to Thursday's US congressional hearing. Bob Fu, a rights activist with the Texas-based Christian group ChinaAid, translated his comments. Bob was a witness at a hearing of Congressional-Executive Commission on China.
"I'm most concerned right now with the safety of my mother and brothers. I really want to know what's going on with them."
The call from Chen to the hearing came after the Commission chairman Chris Smith complained that the Obama administration failed to get him in touch with Chen via phone earlier in the week.
"Having been handed over to the Chinese officials by American diplomats yesterday, Chen, his wife Yuan and the rest of his family and friends appeared to be in significant danger," Smith said.
"Notwithstanding vague and potentially empty safety assurances from the Chinese side, Chen has, since leaving the American embassy in Beijing, expressed an earnest desire to gain asylum for himself and for his family. Questions indeed arise as to whether or not Chen was pressured to leave the US compound," he said in his remarks at the hearing.
Smith raised a number of questions on the manner in which the issue has been handled by the Obama administration.
"There are many questions, and there are even more concerns. How will the United States-China agreement on Chen and his family's safety be enforced? What happens if Chen or any member of his family suffers retaliation? Where is Chen's nephew, Chen Kegui? What happens now with He Peirong, the courageous young woman who drove Chen to safety?" he asked.
In the meantime, Chen told a news agency that his situation is "dangerous”. He also revealed that American officials have been barred from seeing him for two days, adding that his friends who have tried to visit him have been beaten up.
Chen shared his fear for safety with the news agency. "I can only tell you one thing. My situation right now is very dangerous... For two days, American officials who have wanted to come and see me have not been allowed in."
Chinese security agents have sealed the hospital.
Chen last week escaped his rural home where local officials had kept him under house arrest for years. He made it to the US embassy, where he stayed for six days before the US and China reached a deal that would allow him to stay in China but in a new location, as he had requested. But hours after leaving the embassy on Wednesday he said he and his family would not be safe unless they left the country.
A self-taught lawyer, the 40-year-old Chen became an international human rights figure and inspiration to many ordinary Chinese after running afoul of local government officials for exposing forced abortions and sterilizations carried out as part of China's one-child policy. Until his escape last week, his nearly seven years in prison and abusive house arrest with his wife, six-year-old daughter and mother fuelled outrage and added to his stature — and in turn upped the stakes for Washington in helping him.
Chen said throughout his stay at the US embassy that his desire was to remain in China with his family, and US diplomats said that was their goal in negotiations with Chinese officials.
After several days of talks, US officials said they extracted a guarantee that Chen would be relocated outside his home province to a university town where he could formally study law. US officials said they would periodically monitor his situation, though they did not specify how.
But hours after a gleeful Chen left the US compound, he changed his mind, driven in part by his wife's tales of abuse and retribution in the days after Chen managed to escape from his rural farmhouse. Chen also said he felt abandoned by the US, finding no embassy staff at the hospital to assure his protection.
(With Agency’s inputs)