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Shadow of activist row over Sino-US dialogue

world Updated: May 04, 2012 00:15 IST
Sutirtho Patranobis

Lying in a heavily guarded hospital room in Bejing, blind activist Chen Guangcheng has been able to do what some had expected — seemingly overshadow the ongoing Sino-US dialogue which had President Hu Jintao and secretary of state Hillary Clinton speaking on Thursday.

As talks opened, Clinton said China must protect human rights but did not mention Chen by name even as the self-taught blind lawyer indicated that he expected more help from her country. Hillary’s statement as good as rejected China’s assertion a day before that US should not interfere in its internal affairs.

Shadows of doubt and conflicting claims, however, still hangs over on the circumstances under which Chen left the US embassy and what he wants to do now.

On Wednesday, it was claimed that Chen left the embassy after being assured of his and his familiy’s safety; there was even talk about his enrolling into an educational institution. Reports said Chen didn’t want to leave China.

But things possibly changed after China’s strong reaction against the US giving the activist shelter after he escaped house arrest from his home in eastern province of Shandong. The foreign ministry’s reaction indicated that China wasn’t in any mood to relent.

Soon after, US-based ChinaAid, a rights body, indicated that two governments might have entered into an agreement. It also alleged that the 41-year-old Chen left US protection after he learnt that his family had been threatened.

Speaking to AFP on Thursday, Chen said he did not initially want to seek asylum overseas but changed his mind after emerging from the embassy due to concern for his safety and that of his family.

“I want to go overseas. I want the US to help me and my family. They helped me before,” he said by phone from a Beijing hospital where he is being treated for a foot injury suffered during his escape on April 22.

“I don’t feel safe here. I want to leave.”

ChinaAid further released a phone conversation between Chen and prominent lawyer Teng Biao where the former talked about the threat:

“Have you been threatened?” Teng asked. Chen replied: “Yes, indeed. Someone from the ministry of foreign affairs told me this afternoon that if I didn’t leave (the embassy), Weijing and children would have to return (to our village). Those who brought her here are still in this neighborhood. The embassy seemed to want me to leave too.”

Ambassador Gary Locke was quoted as having said on Thursday no pressure was put on Chen to leave the embassy. “I can tell you unequivocally that he was never pressured to leave. He was excited and eager about leaving,” he said.

State media continued to criticise the US. “It is meaningless to use Chen’s case to attack China’s human rights. The progress of China’s human rights has been noticeable and will not be beleaguered by such attacks… We would like to see Chen’s case resolved,” the Global Times newspaper said.