Blind Chinese dissident Chen Guangcheng called into a U.S. congressional hearing for the second time in two weeks Tuesday and said his relatives have been persecuted in retaliation for his escape from house arrest.
He expressed particular concern for his nephew, Chen Kegui, who has been arrested and accused of intent to murder, charges the activist called “trumped up.” He said Chinese authorities have threatened and harassed lawyers attempting to represent his nephew, making it all but impossible for them to see him.
Chen Guangcheng said such tactics are similar to what local officials used against him when they were trying to silence his work against forced abortions and coercive sterilization of women.
Chen became the focus of international attention after he escaped house arrest last month and took sanctuary at the U.S. Embassy in Beijing. The week-long diplomatic showdown between the United States and China ended in a tentative agreement for Chen to leave China to study in the United States. But in the days since, he has remained isolated at a Beijing hospital, awaiting passports from the Chinese government for him, his wife and their two children.
U.S. officials finished processing his visa more than a week ago, State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said Tuesday. “We are ready when he and his government are ready,” she said. “Our information is that those conversations, contacts and processing [with the Chinese government] continue, and we’ve been in regular contact with him two or three times a day every day.”
Family members say the activist’s nephew injured plainclothes officers who burst into his father’s home without warrant after Chen’s escape. Other relatives, including Chen’s older brother and sister-in-law, remain under house arrest and are being watched.
Speaking via cellphone at Tuesday’s hearing, Chen said his immediate family is doing well. After nearly two years under a harsh and illegal form of house arrest, his children are enjoying their time at the hospital, he said. “They keep telling my wife and I, ‘This is a great place because you can play outside.’ ”
The hearing, chaired by Rep. Christopher H. Smith, included criticism from the New Jersey Republican about the Obama administration’s record on human rights and its handling of Chen’s situation. Witnesses included Christian Chinese dissidents who are active in the underground “house church” movement and activists opposing China’s one-child policy, which has led to abuses such as forced abortions.
Speaking a few days earlier, Smith said he decided to hold the hearing in part to highlight the legal fight against forced abortions that had gotten Chen in trouble in the first place. “This administration has tried to hermetically seal the man they were negotiating for from his cause,” the congressman said.
Some China experts expressed concerns that Chen may be unprepared for the intense spotlight awaiting him in the United States if China allows him to leave, especially given election-year politics and the controversy over how his case was handled.
“Politicians of every stripe are going to try to claim him,” said Susan Shirk, who was deputy assistant secretary of state under President Bill Clinton. “I think he’ll have to be cautious about that. He may not necessarily understand the complexities of U.S. politics he’ll be wading into.”
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