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


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
peopleFrankie Boyle responds to referendum result in characteristically offensive style
Lewis Hamilton will start the Singapore Grand Prix from pole, with Nico Rosberg second and Daniel Ricciardo third
F1... for floodlit Singapore Grand Prix
Arts and Entertainment
'New Tricks' star Dennis Waterman is departing from the show after he completes filming on two more episodes
tvHe is only remaining member of original cast
Arts and Entertainment
tvHighs and lows of the cast's careers since 2004
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Fans hold up a scarf at West Ham vs Liverpool
footballAfter Arsenal's clear victory, focus turns to West Ham vs Liverpool
New Articles
i100... she's just started school
New Articles
Life and Style
Couples have been having sex less in 2014, according to a new survey
Arts and Entertainment
musicBiographer Hunter Davies has collected nearly a hundred original manuscripts
New Articles
i100... despite rising prices
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Cover Supervisor

£75 - £90 per day + negotiable: Randstad Education Group: Are you a cover supe...

Marketing Manager - Leicestershire - £35,000

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager (CIM, B2B, MS Offi...

Marketing Executive (B2B and B2C) - Rugby, Warwickshire

£22000 - £25000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A highly successful organisation wit...

SEN Coordinator + Teacher (SENCO)

£1 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Job Purpose To work closely with the he...

Day In a Page

Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam