International

Escaped Chinese lawyer ‘in U.S. protection'

The visually-challenged Chinese lawyer and crusader against forced abortions, Chen Guangcheng, who this week escaped from more than a year-and-a-half of house arrest is now under the protection of United States officials and is likely to be in the U.S. Embassy in Beijing, rights groups said on Saturday.

China Aid, a Texas-based Christian human rights group that has been in contact with Mr. Chen, said in a statement that it had “learned from a source close to the Chen Guangcheng situation that Chen is under U.S. protection and high level talks are currently under way between U.S. and Chinese officials regarding Chen's status”.

U.S. officials neither confirmed nor denied Mr. Chen's presence at the embassy in comments on Saturday, though there appeared to be no additional security outside the embassy's premises through Friday and Saturday.

Mr. Chen (40) was released in September 2010 after serving four years in prison on account of his activism. He represented hundreds of women who were victims of forced abortions conducted by local authorities in Linyi, in Shandong province. Mr. Chen, a self-taught lawyer who lost his sight as a young child, was at one point even celebrated by state media for his legal work before he ran afoul of Shandong authorities.

After his release from prison, he was illegally detained under house arrest along with his wife and child by local officials in the village of Dongshigu, near Linyi. In a video message released on Friday, Mr. Chen appealed to Premier Wen Jiabao to provide protection to his family, who are still thought to be trapped in Dongshigu. Mr. Chen's brother and nephew were said to have been beaten by thugs in a raid on his house this week after officials discovered he had somehow escaped his detention, which the lawyer said was being enforced by more than 100 security guards.

If Mr. Chen is indeed at the U.S. Embassy, his case is certain to strain ties between the two countries at a sensitive time, only days ahead of the May 3 visit of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton for the Strategic and Economic Dialogue.

Mr. Chen's case will be the second instance in recent months of the U.S. finding itself embroiled in a sensitive Chinese domestic matter.

In February, China-U.S. ties were tested in the wake of the scandal surrounding purged Politburo member Bo Xilai, which erupted when his former police chief Wang Lijun fled to the U.S. Consulate in Chengdu carrying sensitive documents.

The U.S. reportedly handed over both Mr. Wang and the documents to Chinese security officials after a 36-hour stand-off at the consulate.

The U.S. also denied his requests for asylum, reports said, with Washington looking to avoid straining relations at a time when both countries are grappling with a range of issues including trade, North Korea, Syria and Iran — topics that were expected to be at the centre of next week's dialogue.

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Printable version | Feb 25, 2020 3:38:11 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/international/escaped-chinese-lawyer-in-us-protection/article3364863.ece

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