Blind ‘barefoot lawyer’ Chen Guangcheng, one of China’s leading human rights advocates, has reportedly escaped from home imprisonment and may have reached the US Embassy in Bejing.
Chen is in Beijing and “100 percent safe,” according to Bob Fu, president of ChinaAid, a US–based advocacy group.
He could not confirm rumors that Chen had sought refuge at the US embassy, saying that the celebrated dissident had previously rejected exile as an option.
“We asked if he was willing to get out of China. He’s very reluctant and he said he wants to fight to the end inside China for his citizen’s rights. He wants to lead a normal life as a Chinese citizen,” Fu said.
In a video posted on YouTube (above), Chen confirmed his escape, and called on Premier Wen Jiabao to investigate local officials’ mistreatment of him and his family.
“It was not at all easy, but I have escaped,” he said. “Everything that was said on the Internet about the violence directed against me by Linyi, I’m here to say that it was all true.”
“I want Premier Wen to open a probe into this corrupt behavior. The money paid by the people in taxes should not be wasted by corrupt local officials to hurt us,” he added:
While Reuters was not able to authenticate the video, there was scant doubt it was Chen, wearing his trademark dark glasses and speaking in his halting, Shandong-accented Mandarin Chinese. Fu earlier said in a telephone interview that Chen’s wife, daughter and mother were still at the family’s village home, which was surrounded by authorities after they discovered Chen had disappeared.
“The entire village and government leaders were stunned by the developments when Chen Guangcheng was not found. So they are surrounding his home,” he said.
Another activist, He Peirong, told Reuters that Chen had talked with her.
“His spirits are okay, but he is passing blood and is very weak,” she said. “His hands won’t stop shaking.”She said Chen was worried about his family.
“He is really worried about his wife, child and mother now he has escaped. He is scared the guards will take revenge now he has escaped. The guards have beaten his old mother this year. They broke some of his wife’s bones which have yet to heal.”
Police detained He, the blogger, who earlier Friday told The Associated Press that she had driven Chen from Dongshigu village on Sunday night out of Shandong province to “a relatively safe place.” She handed him to another activist, who called Fu on Friday to say that he was about to be arrested but that Chen already was safe. Civil rights lawyer Li Fangping said state security agents questioned him Friday about Chen.
In Dongshigu, where authorities have posted surveillance cameras and checkpoints since Chen’s release in 2010, local officials swarmed his brother’s home on Thursday, activists said, detaining the brother and his son after a violent scuffle. The county government, however, said the nephew remained at large and is wanted for assault.
In the video, Chen condemned his treatment and that of his family, accusing local Communist Party officials by name. He called on Premier Wen Jiabao, seen by many Chinese as a reformer, to punish those responsible.
“Including party leaders, police and other civilians, around 90 to 100 people have been involved in the persecution of my family. I hereby request to you, Premier Wen, to start an investigation into this case,” Chen said.
Along with prominent artist Ai Weiwei, Chen has been one of the most widely-known victims of the Chinese regime’s crackdown on rights activists and democracy advocates in the wake of the Arab Spring.
“If Chen has successfully escaped, it comes not a moment too soon as there have been reports that Chen has been in extremely poor health due to severe multiple beatings by his captors,” said Phelim Kine, Senior Asia Researcher at Human Rights Watch.
ChinaAid is a grantee of the National Endowment for Democracy, the Washington-based democracy assistance group.