Chen Guangcheng ‘safe’ in US embassy
Blind campaigner evades about 100 guards to escape from six-year detention but fears grow for family and supporters
A blind Chinese rights activist who made a daring escape from extrajudicial detention was on Friday under the protection of the US embassy in Beijing, according to a friend, as concerns were growing about possible retribution against his family and supporters.
After more than six years of jail and house arrest, Chen Guangcheng was said to have fled under cover of darkness, evading eight checkpoints and close to 100 guards who have been watching his home in the Shandong province countryside.
A photograph released on Friday night shows him with a friend and fellow activist, Hu Jia, who said Chen was under US protection. “It is my understanding that Chen is in the safest place in China. That is the US embassy,” said Hu.
If confirmed, the incident could overshadow a planned trip to Beijing next week by the US secretary of state, Hillary Clinton, and treasury secretary, Timothy Geithner.
It would be the second case this year of a high-profile figure seeking refuge at a US diplomatic office in China. In February, Chongqing police chief Wang Lijun fled to the US consulate in Chengdu claiming his life was threatened because of his investigation into the death of British businessman Neil Heywood.
That incident led to a 36-hour standoff during which Chinese security personnel surrounded the consulate until Wang was turned over to an official from Beijing.
The US government neither confirmed nor denied claims that Chen was seeking asylum. An embassy spokesman, Richard Buangan, told reporters that “he did not have any information at this time.”The British embassy also said Chen’s whereabouts were a mystery. “We have followed Chen Guangcheng’s case over a long period of time and have made representations publicly and privately to Chinese authorities. We have seen today’s reports and will be following events closely,” said a spokesman.The mainstream Chinese media had not reported the escape, but in a video recording apparently made after his release, Chen issued an open call for the prime minister, Wen Jiabao, to investigate his case.
Pictured: Blind Chinese activist Chen Guangcheng and friend and fellow activist Hu Jia taken at an undisclosed location this month. Chen, an inspirational figure in China’s rights movement, slipped away from his well-guarded village this week. Photograph: AP