Chen says US Embassy pressured him to leave, abandoned him at hospital

By Michelle Bauman

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Chen Guangcheng meets his family at the Chaoyang hospital in Beijing as US Ambassador to China Gary Locke looks on. Credit: US Embassy Beijing.

Despite U.S. claims that Chen Guangcheng freely chose to leave the American Embassy in Beijing, the blind pro-life advocate says that he was pressured into making the decision by officials who later failed to keep their promise of remaining with him at a local hospital.

“I'm very disappointed at the U.S. government,” Chen told CNN on May 3.

He said that he was not well-informed when he agreed to leave the U.S. Embassy and now wants to come to the United States so he can rest with his family in safety.

Chen, a self-taught human rights lawyer, was blinded by a serious illness when he was young. He is known for speaking out strongly against China’s one-child policy, which is often enforced through forced abortion and sterilization.

After spending over four years in prison, Chen was placed under house arrest without formal charges for more than a year and a half. He said that he was beaten, robbed and refused medical attention during this time, and that his wife and elderly mother were also violently assaulted on several occasions.

Chen arrived at the U.S. Embassy on April 26 after escaping for house arrest. The escape took place shortly before U.S. Secretary of State Hilary Clinton and other diplomatic officials arrived in the country for previously-scheduled meetings. 

After several days of discussions between the U.S. and China, American officials announced on May 2 that Chen had left the American Embassy in Beijing for a local hospital, where he was receiving medical treatment and had been reunited with his wife and two children.

According to U.S. officials, Chen had received promises from the Chinese government that he would be treated humanely and allowed to move with his family to a safe place in the country to pursue higher education. 

Within hours, however, news reports were flooding in from media outlets that had spoken with Chen in his hospital room and found that he felt pressured to leave the U.S. Embassy.

The 40-year-old activist explained to CNN that he “didn’t have a lot of information” at the time he decided to leave. He said that he wasn’t allowed to call his friends from inside the embassy.
 
“I couldn't keep up with news so I didn't know a lot of things that were happening,” he explained.

He also said that he had asked the embassy to help him talk to Congressman Chris Smith (R-NJ), but they “somehow never managed to arrange it.”

Chen said that he had been told that he would not be reunited with his family if he did not agree to leave the U.S. Embassy on May 2. He told several media outlets that the embassy had lobbied him to leave.

U.S. officials maintain that Chen had repeatedly said that he wished to remain in China. They say that Chen had never requested asylum and when asked directly if he wanted to go to the United States, he declined the offer.

In a May 3 press briefing, U.S. Ambassador to China Gary Locke said that Chen “was never pressured to leave,” and that “he was excited and eager about leaving when he made his decision.”

Chen said that he had been told that officials from the U.S. Embassy would remain with him throughout his hospital stay, but when he arrived in his hospital room after his check-up, he found that there were none there.

Furthermore, recently released conversations with his lawyer, Teng Biao, reveal that hospital employees refused to bring dinner to Chen and his family for hours, despite multiple requests and the fact that his young daughter was crying from hunger.

The pro-life activist said that he has repeatedly called the U.S. Embassy, but they have not answered. He also said that he has been unable to get through to his elderly mother, who had been living with him under house arrest.

Chen told the BBC that China has gone back on its promises and that he believes that representatives of the American Embassy are being prevented from visiting him.

Ambassador Locke said that he was one of many people who stayed with Chen at the hospital. He said that he personally remained at the hospital for about an hour and a half. However, he said that he was not “not aware” if anyone from the embassy had remained at the hospital overnight.

U.S. officials say they have communicated with Chen but that their first scheduled visit with him is not until May 4.

Locke acknowledged that Chen seems to have a “change of heart” and said that the U.S. officials need to meet with him to discuss his current desires and explore various options for his future.

Chen is now asking to speak with Secretary Clinton while she is in China. He has repeatedly requested that he and his family be allowed to leave the country on Clinton’s plane when she returns to the United States.

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