The visually-challenged activist Chen Guangcheng, who last year escaped house arrest in China and moved to the United States, has accused his host New York University of forcing him out because of “unrelenting pressure” from Beijing.
The university denied the accusation, saying Mr. Chen had only been enrolled in a one-year fellowship. New York University (NYU) officials said they were puzzled by the claims, saying they had even been in communication with Mr. Chen over his plans.
Mr. Chen, who angered local authorities in his native Shandong province after helping women who had undergone forced abortions to lodge cases against the government, said in a statement on Monday that he believed NYU, which is in the process of opening its first campus in China this year in Shanghai, was bowing to “unrelenting pressure” from Beijing.
“The work of the Chinese Communists within academic circles in the United States is far greater than what people imagine, and some scholars have no option but to hold themselves back,” he said. “Academic independence and academic freedom in the United States are being greatly threatened by a totalitarian regime.”
But John Beckman, an NYU spokesman, described his allegations as “both false and contradicted by the well-established facts” in comments to The New York Times.
Mr. Chen said he believed Chinese authorities wanted “to make me so busy trying to earn a living that I don’t have time for human rights advocacy”.
Several universities in the New York area are thought to be ready to host Mr. Chen, whose future has been complicated by his emergence at the centre of a tug-of-war between various rights lobbies in the U.S. He has been particularly sought-after by pro-life Christian groups because of his work with women who had undergone forced abortions.
He fled from house arrest in Linyi, in Shandong, last year and sought refuge in the U.S. Embassy in Beijing, sparking a brief diplomatic crisis which was resolved when the Chinese government allowed him to travel to the U.S. to study, with NYU agreeing to host him.
Chinese Foreign Ministry denied it was pressuring NYU to send Mr. Chen back to China. “As far as I know, Chen Guangcheng went to study abroad as an ordinary Chinese citizen after completing formalities in accordance with the law,” spokesperson Hua Chunying said. “I am not aware of the situation you mentioned. I am not sure if you have wrong information, or if Chen Guangcheng is fabricating stories.”