China activist leaves US embassy after escaping house arrest

[JURIST] A blind Chinese legal activist who sought sought safety from local officials by holing up in the US Embassy in Beijing emerged on Wednesday after six days of self-confinement. The activist, Chen Guangcheng [BBC profile; JURIST news archive], was originally wanted in his rural town for exposing forced abortions and other human rights abuses but escaped [JURIST report] last week to avoid 20 months of house arrest. The standoff created high diplomatic tension between the US and China, which are said to have reached a deal prompting Chen's emergence. US officials have said that China agreed [AP report] to meet all of Chen's demands, including a medical exam, a reunion with his family at the hospital and a relocation to a safe place in China where he could attend university. On the other side, the Chinese foreign ministry demanded an apology from the US, an investigation into how Chen got into the embassy and reprimands for those accountable. While US officials have publicly declared that Chen's leave stemmed from the deal and China's assurance of his safety, Chen, speaking from a hospital shortly after his leave, contended [AP report] that US officials told him that Chinese authorities would beat his wife to death if he did not vacate the embassy. Chen also said that he now fears for the safety of himself and his family and has appealed to the US for help leaving China.

Chen's release has been called for by several prominent diplomats, including US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay [official websites], who last week expressed concern [statement] for the activist's family members who were detained by Chinese authorities. In 2010, Chen was placed under house arrest after he was released from serving four years in prison [JURIST report] for damaging property and "organizing a mob to disturb traffic." Following his house arrest, Chinese authorities increased surveillance of his home and family, bringing into question the authenticity of his release [press release]. Chen's family members have claimed that the activist suffers from health problems caused by mistreatment he received while in prison, including beatings and repeated food poisonings [WP report]. Chen claims that the charges were retribution for his documentation of forced sterilizations and abortions performed by Chinese officials to enforce China's one-child policy, and has been consistently detained [HRW backgrounder] by Chinese authorities since 2005.

 

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