Activist fears for family as US deal with China starts to unravel

Dissident Chen Guangcheng says embassy broke promise to stay with him in hospital

Beijing

Chen Guangcheng, the blind civil rights activist, left his refuge in the US embassy in Beijing yesterday following apparent assurances that he and his family could live a normal life – but hours later Mr Chen repudiated this claim, saying he wanted to leave China and that his wife's life was in danger.

The US had refused even to confirm that Mr Chen had taken refuge in its embassy, after he escaped house arrest on 22 April. After days of frantic negotiations, a deal was finally agreed just hours after Hillary Clinton, the US Secretary of State, arrived in Beijing for two days of bilateral talks.

But the deal appeared to be unravelling last night amid reports that Mr Chen had been told by an official at the embassy that Chinese authorities had threatened to beat his wife to death if he refused to leave the fortified American compound. In an interview with the Associated Press last night, Mr Chen said he left following an agreement under which he would receive medical care, be reunited with his family and be allowed to attend university.

Speaking from a hospital in Beijing, he said he now feared for his safety and wanted to leave the China. Embassy officials denied knowledge of the threat.

It appears that Mr Chen learned of the threats to his family only after he had agreed to leave the embassy. He also said last night that, despite assurances that US officials would stay with him in hospital, embassy staff have now left. "Nobody from the embassy is here. I don't understand why. They promised to be here," he told Channel 4 news.

The Washington Post reported that its correspondent in Beijing, Keith Richburg, had received a call from Mr Chen en route to the Chaoyang hospital earlier in the day, when he was travelling with the American ambassador, Gary Locke: "What I was not prepared for was when Locke said, 'I'm here with Chen Guangcheng. Do you speak Chinese? Hold on.' And then passed the phone over. 'Hello, this is Chen Guangcheng,' came a matter-of-fact, almost cheerful voice," Mr Richburg said.

Mr Chen's family had been brought to Beijing by the state security staff, who had beaten and harassed the family since his release from jail, and the beginning of his house arrest, in 2010.

US officials will be under intense pressure to explain what sort of deal it struck with the Chinese in the hours before Ms Clinton arrival in the Chinese capital. The Secretary of State is understood to have telephoned Mr Chen as he drove to hospital with Mr Locke.

In a statement issued last night, the State Department in Washington, said: "At no time did any US officials speak to Chen about physical or legal threats to his wife and children."

US officials said they had taken Mr Chen in to the mission initially to make sure he had medical attention for injuries picked up during his escape.

However, they insisted that Mr Chen had made it clear he was not seeking asylum and that he intended to remain at the embassy for only a limited time.

US diplomats "will take a continuing interest in the case of Mr Chen and his family," and will check on him at "regular intervals" to confirm the Chinese government's commitments were being met, sources said yesterday.

A self-taught lawyer blinded by fever as a child, 40 year-old Mr Chen is best known for exposing forced abortion and sterilisation practices in Linyi County in eastern Shandong province, and for seeking legal redress for the victims.

The drama of his escape last week, and the timing of the diplomatic furore with Ms Clinton and Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, in China for the Strategic and Economic Dialogue, meant resolving this issue was never going to be easy. Matters were complicated further when Mr Chen initially indicated he intended to stay in China – most dissidents who leave find they lose their impact when working from overseas.

However, assurances were needed because local officials in Shandong province have been rounding up the activists who helped Mr Chen escape.

With major trade issues to be resolved, and with Washington seeking Chinese support in dealing with Iran, Syria and North Korea, there has been little appetite on either side for the talks to be overshadowed by Mr Chen's case.

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Account Manager

£20000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This full service social media ...

Recruitment Genius: Data Analyst - Online Marketing

£24000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: We are 'Changemakers in retail'...

Austen Lloyd: Senior Residential Conveyancer

Very Competitive: Austen Lloyd: Senior Conveyancer - South West We are see...

Austen Lloyd: Residential / Commercial Property Solicitor

Excellent Salary: Austen Lloyd: DORSET MARKET TOWN - SENIOR PROPERTY SOLICITOR...

Day In a Page

Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

Ed Balls interview

'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
He's behind you, dude!

US stars in UK panto

From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect
Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

Autism-friendly theatre

Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all
The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

Panto dames: before and after

From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

The man who hunts giants

A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there