Chen Guangcheng

Chen set to start legal studies

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 22 May, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 22 May, 2012, 12:00am


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Chen Guangcheng could start his legal studies at New York University as early as next week as university staff wrap up a research plan for the newly arrived blind legal activist.

Law professor Jerome Cohen, who has served as an adviser and mentor to the self-taught lawyer, detailed Chen's course in a session for the Hong Kong media yesterday.

When the programme ended, Cohen said the plan was for Chen to return to the mainland, where he escaped house arrest last month.

'He wants to go back to China and he should go back to China. That's our goal,' Cohen said. 'It is hard to be a foreigner here and for a refugee trying to have an impact.'

The dissident's arrival in New York on Saturday ended weeks of wrangling over his fate by Chinese and American diplomats.

Chen, who angered Shandong authorities by exposing thousands of forced abortions and sterilisations in an abuse of the one-child policy, was sheltered at the US embassy in Beijing after his daring escape.

Cohen said Chen was in good spirits after moving with his wife and two children into university housing in Manhattan's Greenwich Village, even though the foot injury he suffered in his escape was more serious than first thought.

While in New York, Chen will study Chinese, American and international law. Lectures will be given in Chinese since Chen does not speak English. The programme was scheduled to last a year, but could go longer if necessary, Cohen said. 'His study will probably begin next week or the week after,' Cohen said. 'We will see when he is ready. There is no rush.'

Yuan Weijing, Chen's wife, may join him in his studies. The university will help arrange schooling for his children.

'He is a special student, not an ordinary student,' Cohen said. 'His wife is a very intelligent woman. Of course, the children are her main responsibility. But we hope that when the children are at school, she would be studying law and English.'

Chen has repeatedly said he wants to return to the mainland, something he reaffirmed after arriving in New York. Cohen said if and when Chen returned would depend on the progress of his studies and the political situation on the mainland.

Cohen said Chen understood that few activists had had much success trying to influence domestic reform after leaving the country.

Nonetheless, Cohen said he believed Chen had a good chance of returning should he focus on legislation to protect the disabled. He noted that more Chinese activists had been pressing for legal reforms without being jailed, such as civil rights lawyer Pu Zhiqiang .

Chen spent six days at the US embassy before the Americans struck a deal with their Chinese counterparts to guarantee his rights. He was also allowed to check into a Beijing hospital. But after leaving US protection, Chen said he felt unsafe and wanted to leave the country.

Cohen, who had advised Chen throughout the talks, said Beijing, at least at first, did not want Chen to travel to the US for fear the incident might encourage a rush of dissidents seeking protection from foreign governments. The US also opposed Chen's relocation, Cohen said.

'They said no because the Chinese government was angry and refused,' Cohen said.

The deal unravelled after Chen left the embassy and had his first conversations with his wife and with lawyer friend Teng Biao who complained of recent beatings by authorities. After that, Beijing took a more diplomatic approach and decided to let Chen go.

Chen had not been allowed to call his wife or Teng at the embassy, Cohen said. If Chen had had such talks, he might have rejected the offer and refused to leave the embassy.