Chen Guangcheng

Chen flies out 'filled with deep emotions'

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 20 May, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 20 May, 2012, 12:00am


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Blind legal activist Chen Guangcheng, who caused a diplomatic crisis when he fled to the US embassy in Beijing last month, boarded a plane to New York with his family yesterday telling of his sadness at leaving his homeland.

The departure of Chen, his wife and two children for America ended weeks of uncertainty over his fate after he escaped 19 months of extra-legal house arrest.

Chen told the Sunday Morning Post his heart was 'filled with deep emotions'. He said: 'There are many things that have not been achieved.'

Chen, 40, said he didn't know for certain when they would be allowed to leave China until they were taken to the airport yesterday afternoon, suggesting he was informed of the schedule only at the last minute.

Speaking from Beijing Capital International Airport while waiting to board a United Airlines flight, Chen said the family received their passports only after arriving at the airport.

Chen was worried about the safety of his extended family and was still unclear about the central government's pledge to investigate local officials' abuses against him.

The abuses date back to 2005, when he was dragged off a street in Beijing and forcibly taken back to his home province of Shandong .

He was jailed there for more than four years on trumped-up charges in 2006 after he drew attention to forced abortions and sterilisations.

He was released in 2010 and put under house arrest.

Xinhua issued a statement yesterday saying Chen 'has applied for study in the US via normal procedures'. Officials in Washington said they looked forward to Chen's arrival.

US State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said: 'We express our appreciation for the manner in which we were able to resolve this matter.'

Chinese academics said the incident showed Beijing and Washington had become more mature in dealing with sensitive issues.

Chen has accused Shandong officials of taking revenge on his family after his escape, torturing his elder brother Chen Guangfu , and beating and arresting his 33-year-old nephew, Chen Kegui .

Guangfu helped his brother escape while his son, Kegui, has been charged with 'intentional homicide' for attacking officials who broke into his home after the activist's escape.

No one was killed in the scuffle, and the charge puzzled legal experts. Kegui is being held at a detention centre in Yinan county.

Yesterday, Guangfu said by phone while under house arrest that he was happy for his brother, but was worried about retribution against his own family.

'I worry that they will do terrible things to us,' he said. 'I have no appetite. I can't sleep at night and often have nightmares.'

Local officials took Guangfu into custody for two days after learning his brother had fled. He said he was lashed with a belt and suspended in mid-air with his hands cuffed.

Many doubt whether Chen Guangcheng - long seen as a thorn in the side of the authorities - can ever return to China, but he said government officials told him last week his family could return 'any time'.

Phelim Kine, senior researcher at Human Rights Watch, said: 'Getting Chen Guangcheng and his family on a plane is the easiest part of this saga.

'The harder, longer term part is ensuring his right under international law to return to China.'

Chen escaped from house arrest at his village home in Linyi on April 20 and sought refuge at the US embassy a few days later. After negotiations between China and the US, it was initially agreed Chen would be able to live in safety on the mainland.

But he said he feared for his safety and wanted to go to the US instead. New York University has offered him a fellowship to study law.