BEIJING — A Chinese legal crusader, blind since childhood, has escaped from extrajudicial house arrest in eastern China and has been smuggled to Beijing, according to a rights group that has tracked his case closely and claimed to be in contact.
The U.S. Embassy in Beijing did not confirm or deny rumors that Chen Guangcheng, whose 19 months of confinement in his home village had attracted worldwide attention, may have sought sanctuary through U.S. or other Western diplomats.
“I can share with you Chen is now in the 100 percent safe location in Beijing,” Bob Fu, president of the U.S.-based Christian rights group China Aid Association, wrote in an email exchange. The group has released reliable information about Chen in the past.
A separate statement by China Aid emphasized that Chen has said he does not want to leave China.
Hu Jia, a fellow activist and longtime friend of Chen, said he’d heard from a trusted source that Chen went to the U.S. Embassy. The veracity of that assertion remained unknown early Friday evening.
Asked for comment about Chen being in Beijing or at the embassy, embassy spokesman Richard Buangan responded, “Sorry, I don’t have any information for you on this at this time.”
The apparently successful getaway by Chen comes at a sensitive time — U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will begin a series of high-level meetings in Beijing next week, when the case could be raised. The political situation in China has already been made delicate by the recent purging of politburo member Bo Xilai amid one of the worst political scandals to hit the nation in decades.
On Friday, a video of Chen was posted online in which he confirmed that he’d fled his village of Dongshigu in Shandong province. Styled as an open letter to Premier Wen Jiabao, seen by many as a reformer in China’s authoritarian system, Chen named some of the men who he said rushed into his home and beat him and his wife on multiple occasions.
“They all belong to the public security system, even though they don’t wear any uniforms,” said Chen, 40, wearing a black tracksuit jacket with a yellow Nike stripe and large sunglasses.
He urged Wen to open an investigation, saying that his mistreatment had harmed the image of the Chinese Communist Party.
Chen was sentenced to 51 months in 2006 after his efforts to expose local officials’ rough enforcement of China’s family planning laws, including dragging women out of their homes to undergo forced abortions. After being released from prison in September 2010, Chen, largely self-taught in the law, was placed under a home detention that included rings of security personnel said to stretch throughout the village.