Supporters of Chen Guangcheng, via Associated Press
Chen Guangcheng, shown in an undated photograph, has been isolated since September 2010.
By ANDREW JACOBS and JONATHAN ANSFIELD
Published: April 27, 2012
The lawyer, Chen Guangcheng, one of the best-known and most politically savvy Chinese dissidents, evaded security forces surrounding his home this week and, aided by an underground network of human rights activists, secretly made his way about 300 miles to Beijing, where he is believed to have found refuge in the American Embassy, according to advocates and Chinese officials.
An official in the Chinese Ministry of State Security on Friday said that Mr. Chen had reached the United States Embassy, but American officials would not confirm reports that Mr. Chen had found shelter there.
Mr. Chen’s escape represents a significant public relations challenge for the Chinese government, which has sought to relegate him to obscurity, confining him to his home in the remote
The case also poses a major new diplomatic test for the
But with Mr. Chen now believed to be on the grounds of the American Embassy in
Mr. Chen, according to those who have spoken to him, slipped away on Sunday evening from his home in
“You know he’s blind, so the night to him is nothing,” Mr. Ai said the friend told him. “I think that’s a perfect metaphor.”
Among those who helped Mr. Chen was He Peirong, a family friend who said Mr. Chen had planned his escape far in advance, staying in bed for long periods of time to trick guards into thinking he was too sick to walk. In an account she wrote on her microblog early Friday, Ms. He said that Mr. Chen had called her after fleeing the village. She said she then picked him up in her car, and they drove to
A spokesman for
“It’s still not clear how this happened,” the intelligence officer said. “Was this happenstance, or was it planned this way? Are there others planning to do the same?”
The timing is especially inopportune for
A vice foreign minister, Cui Tiankai, said Saturday morning that the meeting would go ahead as planned next week. Mr. Cui also played down the Chen case. “I don’t think this issue will occupy much time or focus,” he said, regarding the meeting. “So I have no information for you on it.”
The escape creates headaches for
Mrs. Clinton has addressed Mr. Chen’s case on several occasions, most recently in a speech on Asian policy in November that prompted a sharp rebuke from
On Friday, however, the State Department’s spokeswoman, Victoria Nuland, said she would make no comment about Mr. Chen’s escape or his whereabouts. The White House also declined to comment, and a scheduled briefing on Mrs. Clinton’s planned visit was postponed.
“Chen Guangcheng is a very strong candidate for asylum,” said Susan L. Shirk, a former State Department official who is now a professor at the
But, as in the exploding scandal surrounding Bo Xilai, the Obama administration has sought to keep itself out of
Rights advocates said Mr. Chen was not seeking to leave China, but would try to negotiate his freedom with the Chinese authorities.
“He is reluctant to go overseas and wants only to live like a normal Chinese citizen,” said Mr. Fu.
Shortly after news of Mr. Chen’s daring escape began circulating, a video appeared on YouTube on Friday, filmed in the days since he gained his freedom, in which he described life under house arrest. The video, in the form of an appeal to Prime Minister Wen Jiabao, detailed the abuse that he and his family suffered.
He told of how his daughter was followed to school by three guards each day and how guards had kicked his wife for hours on end. “Prime Minister Wen, you owe the people an explanation,” he said. “Are these atrocities the result of local officials violating the law or a result of orders from the top leadership?”
It is not the first time that Mr. Chen has sought to publicize the details of his confinement. Last year, he and his wife were reportedly severely beaten after a video they secretly recorded inside their home was smuggled out of the village and posted on the Internet. Friends say the subsequent abuse by their captors had left Mr. Chen in frail health.
Mr. Chen, 40, is a self-taught lawyer, who was once lauded by the state media for his work defending farmers and the disabled. But he angered local officials after taking on the case of thousands of women who had been forcibly sterilized in
After his release, he was taken directly to his family’s stone farmhouse, which was turned into a makeshift prison. His wife, and for a time his young daughter, were also confined inside the house, which was ringed by surveillance cameras, floodlights and a rotating cordon of guards.
Reporters, diplomats and Chinese activists who tried to visit Mr. Chen were violently repelled by guards.
Rights advocates on Friday expressed concern for Mr. Chen and for his wife, Yuan Weijing, who activists said was left behind. Still, Mr. Fu of China Aid said he was optimistic that Mr. Chen might be able to negotiate his freedom. “The fact that he’s escaped will really shake up Chinese security forces,” he said. “It tells them that they are not almighty God.”
Reporting was contributed by Edward Wong, Sharon LaFraniere, Michael Wines and Jane Perlez from
A version of this article appeared in print on April 28, 2012, on page A1 of the
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"The master class has always declared the wars; the subject class has always fought the battles. The master class has had all to gain and nothing to lose, while the subject class has had nothing to gain and everything to lose--especially their lives." Eugene Victor Debs