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
Arts and Entertainment
TVShow's twee, safe facade smashed by ice cream melting scandal
Life and Style
life
News
Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie reportedly married in secret on Saturday
peopleSpokesperson for couple confirms they tied the knot on Saturday after almost a decade together
Voices
Pupils educated at schools like Eton (pictured) are far more likely to succeed in politics and the judiciary, the report found
voices
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn evocation of the conflict through the eyes of those who lived through it
News
Actor, model and now record breaker: Jiff the Pomeranian
Video
News
REX/Eye Candy
science
Sport
Alexis Sanchez celebrates after scoring his first goal for Arsenal in the Champions League qualifier against Besiktas
sportChilean's first goal for the club secures place in draw for Champions League group stages
News
i100
News
Down time: an employee of Google uses the slide to get to the canteen
scienceBosses are inventing surprising ways of making us work harder
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
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

Investment Analyst

£33000 - £40000 Per Annum Discretionary profit share: The Green Recruitment Co...

Project Coordinator

£20000 - £30000 Per Annum: The Green Recruitment Company: Job Title: Project C...

Practice Manager

Very Competitive Salary : Austen Lloyd: PRACTICE MANAGER - CITY OF LONDON - An...

Graduate / Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£20000 - £30000 per annum + OTE £45000: SThree: SThree are a global FTSE 250 b...

Day In a Page

Israel-Gaza conflict: No victory for Israel despite weeks of death and devastation

Robert Fisk: No victory for Israel despite weeks of devastation

Palestinians have won: they are still in Gaza, and Hamas is still there
Mary Beard writes character reference for Twitter troll who called her a 'slut'

Unlikely friends: Mary Beard and the troll who called her a ‘filthy old slut’

The Cambridge University classicist even wrote the student a character reference
America’s new apartheid: Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone

America’s new apartheid

Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone
Amazon is buying Twitch for £600m - but why do people want to watch others playing Xbox?

What is the appeal of Twitch?

Amazon is buying the video-game-themed online streaming site for £600m - but why do people want to watch others playing Xbox?
Tip-tapping typewriters, ripe pongs and slides in the office: Bosses are inventing surprising ways of making us work harder

How bosses are making us work harder

As it is revealed that one newspaper office pumps out the sound of typewriters to increase productivity, Gillian Orr explores the other devices designed to motivate staff
Manufacturers are struggling to keep up with the resurgence in vinyl records

Hard pressed: Resurgence in vinyl records

As the resurgence in vinyl records continues, manufacturers and their outdated machinery are struggling to keep up with the demand
Tony Jordan: 'I turned down the chance to research Charles Dickens for a TV series nine times ... then I found a kindred spirit'

A tale of two writers

Offered the chance to research Charles Dickens for a TV series, Tony Jordan turned it down. Nine times. The man behind EastEnders and Life on Mars didn’t feel right for the job. Finally, he gave in - and found an unexpected kindred spirit
Could a later start to the school day be the most useful educational reform of all?

Should pupils get a lie in?

Doctors want a later start to the school day so that pupils can sleep later. Not because teenagers are lazy, explains Simon Usborne - it's all down to their circadian rhythms
Prepare for Jewish jokes – as Jewish comedians get their own festival

Prepare for Jewish jokes...

... as Jewish comedians get their own festival
SJ Watson: 'I still can't quite believe that Before I Go to Sleep started in my head'

A dream come true for SJ Watson

Watson was working part time in the NHS when his debut novel, Before I Go to Sleep, became a bestseller. Now it's a Hollywood movie, too. Here he recalls the whirlwind journey from children’s ward to A-list film set
10 best cycling bags for commuters

10 best cycling bags for commuters

Gear up for next week’s National Cycle to Work day with one of these practical backpacks and messenger bags
Paul Scholes: Three at the back isn’t working yet but given time I’m hopeful Louis van Gaal can rebuild Manchester United

Paul Scholes column

Three at the back isn’t working yet but given time I’m hopeful Louis van Gaal can rebuild Manchester United
Kate Bush, Hammersmith Apollo music review: A preamble, then a coup de théâtre - and suddenly the long wait felt worth it

Kate Bush shows a voice untroubled by time

A preamble, then a coup de théâtre - and suddenly the long wait felt worth it
Robot sheepdog technology could be used to save people from burning buildings

The science of herding is cracked

Mathematical model would allow robots to be programmed to control crowds and save people from burning buildings
Tyrant: Is the world ready for a Middle Eastern 'Dallas'?

This tyrant doesn’t rule

It’s billed as a Middle Eastern ‘Dallas’, so why does Fox’s new drama have a white British star?