Blind Chinese dissident Chen Guangcheng said Thursday that the United States had given him an assurance that it would push Beijing to respect his rights and freedom if these were violated while he remains in China.
The assurance, he told RFA’s Mandarin service, was a key component of a U.S.-China deal that prodded him on Wednesday to leave the U.S. Embassy in Beijing where he had sought refuge after a dramatic escape from house arrest in his rural Shandong province.
In an interview, Chen, who is bedridden with his foot in plaster at a Beijing hospital, said the Chinese authorities appeared to be defying the bilateral deal by placing restrictions on him in terms of phone contact and family movements, as well as by making threats to his wife.
Chen, a crusading lawyer who had exposed forced abortions and sterilizations under China’s “one-child” policy, is now requesting that he and his family be allowed to travel to the United States, throwing into doubt the deal used to coax him out of his sanctuary in the U.S. Embassy in Beijing.
The 40-year-old activist said he decided on Wednesday to leave the U.S. Embassy only after Beijing agreed that his “civic rights and freedom would be protected.”
He was also assured of medical treatment, being reunited with his family, and arrangements made for him to pursue further studies at a university under the deal hammered out in talks led by Assistant Secretary of State Kurt Campbell on the American side.
“I asked Mr. Campbell what would happen if these conditions were not met. And he said if the conditions were not met, they [the U.S. side] would continue to express concern and ask that the terms of the agreement be fulfilled,” Chen said in the interview.
Washington acknowledged Thursday that Chen and his family now want to leave the country and said it is in talks with him about his options.
Chen said he has received no visits from friends or well-wishers on Thursday. “No, not one,” he said, when asked if anyone had been to visit him. He added that contact by phone was also unreliable.
“Yesterday evening I wasn’t able to call out or receive calls at all,” he said.
RFA had dialed his number nonstop for one hour, getting a busy signal each time, before he picked up on Thursday.
Chen said his phone hadn’t rung and that he had received the call only because he randomly “hit the button.” He said he had only been on the phone for a total of 10 minutes during the past few hours.
Asked if there were any restrictions on his wife’s movements within Chaoyang Hospital, he said, “Yes, it seems that there are. [My wife] hasn’t been out of the hospital, but she has been out of the building.”
“Yes, [she was stopped] yesterday,” said Chen, who is now staying in his hospital with his wife Yuan Weijing and the couple’s two children.
A U.S. State Department spokeswoman told reporters on Thursday that American officials are planning to talk further with Chen, to decide whether he and his family should leave their homeland and seek asylum in the United States.
“It is clear now that in the last 12 to 15 hours they … have had a change of heart,” State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland told reporters. “We need to consult with them further, get a better sense of what they want to do, and together consider their options.”
Rights groups expressed “concern” for Chen’s safety, should he and his family remain in China.
“On the basis of a promise from the Chinese government … U.S. diplomats hastily delivered Chen from the U.S. Embassy in Beijing to a local hospital designated by Chinese officials on May 2,” the Hong Kong-based group China Human Rights Defenders (CHRD) said in a statement.
“Six days after Chen reached the embassy to seek sanctuary, his fate is now back in the hands of the very government that has been complicit in disappearing, detaining, and assaulting him over the past seven years, including, most brutally, from the time he was placed under house arrest in September of 2010 until his daring escape on April 22,” it said.
U.S. Ambassador to Beijing Gary Locke denied that Chen was pressured in any way, adding that the activist had appeared keen to leave shortly after a phone call from his wife. He told reporters that U.S. officials were prepared to have him stay much longer, if a deal couldn’t be reached.
“I can tell you unequivocally that he was never pressured to leave,” Locke told a news briefing in Beijing on Thursday. “He was excited and eager about leaving when he made his decision.”
But he added: “He also fully knew of what … staying in the embassy would entail if he decided not to leave. And he was fully aware of and talked about what might happen to his family if he stayed in the embassy and they stayed in the village in Shandong province,” Locke said.
Asked what was the deciding factor in his decision to leave the U.S. Embassy, Chen replied: “It was because they threatened me. They said that if I didn’t go straight to the hospital, that they would take my wife straight back to Shandong.”
Zeng Jinyan, a fellow activist and friend of Chen and his wife, reported via Twitter that the couple now fear for their future.
A transcribed phone conversation between Chen and rights lawyer Teng Biao posted on the website of the U.S.-based ChinaAid Christian group detailed how Chen was swayed by advice he received from Teng, and how differently things might have gone if he had spoken to him before he left the embassy.
“If not for your own sake, but for the sake of your family and friends who tried to rescue you, you should still go back to the U.S. Embassy and find a way to go to the U.S.,” Teng is quoted as telling his friend.
“If this stays unsettled, all of you will be in danger…. We don’t want to see you sacrifice more and pay a heavier price.”
Reported by Zhang Min for RFA’s Mandarin service. Translated by Luisetta Mudie and Jennifer Chou. Written in English by Luisetta Mudie and Parameswaran Ponnudurai.