Chen Guangcheng

Chen relishes 'first rest in seven years'

PUBLISHED : Monday, 21 May, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 21 May, 2012, 12:00am


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Blind activist Chen Guangcheng appeared happy and upbeat as he arrived in New York yesterday, bringing an end to a seven-year saga of confinement that culminated in tense diplomatic negotiations after he fled to the US embassy in Beijing a month ago.

Leaning on crutches and with a plaster cast to mend an injury suffered to his right foot during his dramatic escape, Chen smiled and waved to a cheering crowd of supporters before speaking to reporters outside a university housing complex in Manhattan's Greenwich Village.

'After such turbulence, I have finally come here from Dongshigu village in Shandong ,' said Chen, who has accepted a research fellowship at New York University's School of Law. 'I am very glad that the Chinese government has remained restrained and calm when handling my case.'

His flight landed on Saturday evening in Newark, New Jersey, after 13 hours. He was then taken to the university by US State Department officials and his law professor friend, Jerome Cohen. The university has admitted Chen as a special student.

'For the past seven years, I have never had a weekend that I could take rest,' Chen said. 'Now I am here, I can do a bit of recuperation for body and in spirit.'

He took only one question from reporters, replying 'yes' when asked if he would return to China. In prepared remarks he said: 'Equality and justice have no boundaries.'

The 40-year-old activist said the Chinese government had promised to protect his rights as a citizen while he was out of the country.

'I'm very grateful for the assistance of the American embassy and also [for] receiving a promise from the Chinese government for protection of my rights as a citizen over the long term. I believe that the promise from the central government is sincere and they are not lying to me.'

His wife Yuan Weijing was with him at the beginning of the press session before leaving to 'take care of the two children'.

Chen, who had been under house arrest since being released from a four-year prison term in 2010 for his opposition to forced sterilisations and abortions in his home province, repeatedly expressed his gratitude to people who supported him.

'The US embassy gave me a lot of assistance during critical moments,' he said. 'I hope to continue getting their assistance in the future.'

Officials from Britain, Canada, France and Sweden also kept in contract with him, he said.

Crowds of onlookers and supporters gathered at Newark Airport and the university hours before Chen appeared. At the university, the crowd applauded Chen and chanted 'human rights' before he spoke.

Former Tiananmen Square student leader Chai Ling, who was at the airport and the university, described Chen as a hero, but also said Chen would still have to be careful about saying or doing something in the US that could provoke authorities to crack down on his family at home.