2 May 2012

Blind Chinese dissident speaks exclusively to Channel 4 News

Exclusive: Chen Guangcheng tells Channel 4 News he left the US embassy for hospital as part of an “agreement” with the Chinese government, but despite promises, no-one from the US embassy is with him.

Chen had been under protection at the US embassy in Beijing after escaping from house arrest last Friday.

He left the embassy for hospital on Wednesday morning, although he told Channel 4 News this was part of an agreement with the Chinese government rather than because of a medical emergency.

“Nobody from the (US) Embassy is here. I don’t understand why. They promised to be here,” he added.

When asked if he was at hospital because of his health, Chen replied: “No. I came because of an agreement. I was worried about the safety of my family. A gang of them have taken over our house, sitting in our room and eating at our table, waving thick sticks around.

“They’ve turned our home into a prison, with seven cameras and electric fence all around.”

US Secretary of State Hilary Clinton who arrived in Beijing on Wednesday, promised to “remain engaged” with his case.

Mrs Clinton called on the Chinese government to keep its pledge to leave Mr Chen unmolested. “The United States government and the American people are committed to remaining engaged with Mr Chen and his family in the days, weeks and years ahead,” she said in a statement.

“He sounded firm in the beginning when I ask him what he wanted to tell the world,” writes Channel 4 News producer Bessie Du.

“I asked him if he told the embassy that he wanted to leave China, he said: ‘no, because I didn’t have enough information (to make a decision)’. Later he got more anxious and started crying: ‘I’m very sad..(long pause)..’

“I asked: ‘what are you sad about?’ and he said: ‘everything I’ve been through in the last few days’.

“I think he really doesn’t know what to do now, especially after he heard about the threat his wife and children have received. His friends also tell him that he cannot rely on the “assurance” from the Chinese authority.. This confuses him even more.”

‘My wish is to leave the country’

Speaking on Wednesday afternoon, Chen told Channel 4 News that he wanted to leave China with his family for a while, despite previous reports that suggested he wanted to stay in China. “My biggest wish is to leave the country with my family and rest for a while. I haven’t had a Sunday [rest-day] in seven years,” he said.

I was worried about the safety of my family. A gang of them have taken over our house, sitting in our room and eating at our table, waving thick sticks around. They’ve turned our home into a prison, with seven cameras and electric fence all around.

Lawyer Teng Biao, who is a close friend of Mr Chen, tweeted an account of several phone conversations with his friend describing his uncertainty about whether to stay in China or not. He said in a tweet: “no matter if it was because of threats or other reasons that he left the embassy, he’s obviously not feeling safe now.”

The dissident Zeng Jinyan, who saw Mr Chen and family in hospital, tweeted that: “Weijing [Chen’s wife] told me this afternoon that it was her that convinced Guangcheng to leave the embassy to meet her and the children. Otherwise they would not have met because she and the children would have been sent back to Shangdong. In our phone conversation this evening, Chen told me for the first time that he wanted to leave China with his family.”

Mr Chen had been under house arrest and restricted to his home village of Linyi in eastern Shandong province since September 2010, after spending five years in jail. Although he is not charged with any crime officially, Chen exposed the practice of forcing abortions on women who became pregnant and transgressed the one child policy.

He reported his escape on Friday by posting a video online in which he also asked Premier Wen Jiabao to investigate maltreatment against him and his family.

US officials said that embassy staff had helped Mr Chen when he arrived at the US mission in Beijing.

China’s media silence on the incident ended on Wednesday with a brief report by the Xinhua news agency, saying that Mr Chen had left the embassy ‘of his own volition’.

A senior US official confirmed that Chen was out of the embassy on Wednesday: “Chen Guangcheng has arrived at a medical facility in Beijing where he will receive medical treatment and be reunited with his family,” said the official who requested anonymity.

Diplomatic embarrassment

Mr Chen’s escape from house arrest happened just days before China and the United States were due to hold high-level talks in Beijing. Mrs Clinton said that the USA had handled the case “in a way that reflected his choices and our values.” But China’s Foreign Ministry said it was extremely unhappy the embassy had taken Chen in.

“It must be pointed out that the United States Embassy took the Chinese citizen Chen Guangcheng into the embassy in an irregular manner, and China expresses its strong dissatisfaction over this,” ministry spokesman Liu Weimin said in a statement carried by Xinhua.

“The US method was interference in Chinese domestic affairs, and this is totally unacceptable to China. China demands that the United States apologise over this, thoroughly investigate this incident, punish those who are responsible, and give assurances that such incidents will not recur.”