By Bridget O’Donnell
Chen Guangcheng with US Ambassador Gary Locke at the American Embassy in Beijing earlier this week.
Turns out all that speculation that blind Chinese human rights lawyer Chen Guangcheng fled to the US Embassy in Beijing was true. American officials confirmed that, following a six-day stint at the Embassy, Chen left Wednesday to receive medical treatment at a nearby hospital in the city. But it looks like Chen may have been forced out — he told the AP from the hospital this evening that authorities threatened to beat and kill his wife if he refused to leave the Embassy.
Despite an American official denying Chen’s claim, the incident is terrible timing for the US; Secretary of State Hillary Clinton just arrived for a two-day series of talks on US-China economic cooperation.
Zeng Jinyan, a close friend of Chen’s, confirmed the threats. She told the LATimes that Chen’s wife had contacted her, saying:
If her husband didn’t exit the embassy, she and her children would be forced to return to their village where thugs armed with sticks were waiting for them.
Chen, who was reunited with his family at Chaoyang Hospital, told the AP that he now fears for his safety and wants to leave the country. This statement comes despite his insistence earlier today that he did not enter the Embassy to seek asylum.
At the hospital, Chen is no longer under US protection.
Chen departed the Embassy just hours after Clinton arrived to take part in a two-day series of US-China talks known as the Strategic and Economic Dialogue. Upon leaving the Embassy, Chen reportedly received a phone call from Clinton, and the conversation ended with Chen telling the Secretary, “I would like to kiss you.” (Chen later clarified through Zeng Jinyan that what he said was “I would like to see you.”)
Meanwhile, the US Embassy — which reportedly relayed the threats to Chen — isn’t saying much about the incident. After receiving pledges from Chinese authorities that Chen would be safe and allowed to live a normal life, a deal was reportedly brokered between US and Chinese officials to allow Chen and his family to move to Tianjin. Chen escaped from his hometown in Shandong province after allegedly being attacked by authorities while under house arrest there.
But China expressed dissatisfaction over the affair, claiming the Embassy used “abnormal means” to harbor Chen.
Flickr image via PAS China.