US Embassy Kicks Blind Activist to the Curb in Beijing

 

This morning, the activist Chen Guangcheng left his safe haven at the US Embassy in Beijing. US officials immediately launched an effort to paint his departure as a mutually beneficial, fully voluntary event—but Chen’s friends and fellow activists suggest otherwise and believe he is now in grave danger.

 

Today Chen told these activists that he only left the embassy after American officials told him that his wife and children would be in danger if he remained there any longer.

 

Chai Ling, the former Tiananmen leader and founder of All Girls Allowed, stands among the activists supporting Chen. She and Chen share a common cause in fighting the brutal enforcement of China’s One-Child Policy. Chai is dismayed at the US State Department’s handling of his case, and is deeply concerned for his family and the network of activists who helped him escape last week.

 

“It’s disappointing,” she said. “Chen’s escape gave the US a chance to demonstrate its commitment to freedom and be on the right side of history—and now the chance is all but gone.” Chen has told friends that he is already under intense government surveillance and has been unable to reach the US Embassy by phone. Said Chai: “Secretary Clinton, whose work I’ve admired, had the power to provide asylum for Chen and his family. But she gave way under pressure—and now we don’t even know what will become of the activists who were arrested last week after helping Chen escape.”

 

The US State Department released a statement in response to the backlash over Chen, but it did little to relieve concerns. It denied Chen left under pressure, saying that the U.S. never told him that his wife or children were threatened. Yet the statement continued: “U.S. interlocutors did make clear that if Chen elected to stay in the Embassy, Chinese officials had indicated to us that his family would be returned to Shandong, and they would lose their opportunity to negotiate for reunification.” In other words, Chen would not be reunited with his family unless he left the embassy. As Chai Ling said, “If that isn’t coercion, what is?

 

“When I fled for my life after Tiananmen,” said Chai, “I had two options. I could either go to the U.S. Embassy, or I could try to get out of China over land through a network of underground activists.” She chose to travel to the border, even though it took ten months and involved many near misses—and finally a 105-hour journey in a cargo box. She did so because she heard that the U.S. Embassy would likely hand her over to the Chinese government if she tried to seek asylum there. “Until today, I believed the US Embassy had changed for the better,” she said.

 

Reports suggested that Secretary Clinton wanted to resolve the question of Chen’s future quickly, fearing that his escape would overshadow the major diplomatic meetings taking place in China this week. But, as Chai said, “A courageous man’s safety and freedom is not just another bargaining chip on the negotiation table—at least not in the America I admire. This was a failure and a missed opportunity to help China become the nation it needs to be.”







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