Chen Guangcheng

Flight draws mixed reaction

PUBLISHED : Friday, 04 May, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 04 May, 2012, 12:00am


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Blind legal advocate Chen Guangcheng's decision to flee China, made after he left the US embassy on Wednesday afternoon, has drawn varied responses from friends and fellow rights advocates. Many are still trying to piece together what led to his change of mind, while others are raising concerns about whether it is a wise move.

Veteran Chinese law professor Jerome Cohen, who spoke to Chen for a total of more than four hours on Monday and Tuesday night, said he was surprised at the 'sudden change of mind', but said he understood it to be a hard decision.

'It was a difficult decision in any event, and it took some time for him to come to it, and I thought that when he left the embassy he had decided this was a gamble worth taking,' Cohen told the South China Morning Post yesterday. He became involved when Chen demanded to speak to him after the US embassy said he should seek independent legal advice.

Cohen said that according to his knowledge, Chen's wife was supportive of the deal when Chen was still in the embassy and when she was in hospital. But Chen wavered on Monday night.

'On Monday, after 2 1/2 hours of talking with the US officials and with him, I told them the deal is off. Chen is too afraid. He kept saying on Monday feichang bu anquan [very unsafe]. I said, look, if that's your feeling, no way you could accept this deal.'

However, on Tuesday, Chen apparently told the United States embassy that it was not him but Cohen who told him to reject the deal.

'This was plainly wrong. I didn't see it was my job to advocate either options, but going over the pros and cons each with him.' So the two talked more about the deal, and on Tuesday evening at 9pm, when the two hung up, Cohen said he felt Chen was ready to take the deal, although in hindsight perhaps a bit too eager. He was in a very susceptible frame of mind. And eager to make decisions, but it's hard to stick to one.'

Lawyer Li Jinsong, counsel for Chen in his lawsuits against Shandong authorities, was one of the first people Chen called when he was on his way from the embassy to Beijing's Chaoyang Hospital, where he was reunited with wife Yuan Weijing and children.

'He sounded happy during the call, asking me to inform other friends to meet him at the hospital,' Li said. 'His change of mind probably happened after he met with his family and spoke to friends.'

Lawyer Teng Biao and Zeng Jinyan , wife of Aids activist Hu Jia , broke the news on Twitter about Chen's change of heart.

Teng said he spoke to Chen six times between 8pm and 11pm on Wednesday and posted a transcript of the conversations online. They show Chen's gradual change of mind after Teng strongly urged him to leave China, on several grounds, including by citing past examples showing that Beijing's vow not to retaliate could not be trusted.

Cohen said looking back it did occur to him that had Chen had the chance to talk to Teng during the negotiation, the whole affair could have been cut short.

Lawyer Jiang Tianyong , who was taken away yesterday afternoon after attempting to enter the hospital to meet Chen, told the Post earlier that morning that he thought Chen made up his mind after reaching the hospital. 'Previously he had been threatened only by people in Linyi [Shandong] - he was not in contact with people from the central government or Beijing - but at the hospital, he was directly threatened by someone from the Foreign Ministry. This perhaps made Chen truly feel that he was not protected.'

However, Chen's lawyer, Li, said he was worried. 'The original result was a relatively good one for Chen and his family. But now it seems like emotional influences are taking over, drowning out voices of the gentle conscience, both within and outside the system,' Li said. 'It'll be a relief if Chen can leave. But what if he can't?

'The only people who actually benefited from this are those who mistreated Chen in the first place.'

Cohen said he hoped Chen could at least be allowed to rest for two weeks in hospital, to have peace of mind, while China and US worked out a new arrangement.

What happened May 2-3

3.19pm Blind activist Chen Guangcheng talks with The Washington Post on his way to Chaoyang hospital, in a call arranged by US Ambassador Gary Locke. Chen also tells his lawyer Li Jinsong, 'I'm free. I've received clear assurances.'

3.27pm Xinhua confirms that Chen 'entered the US embassy in Beijing in late April and left of his own volition after staying there for six days'.

3.39pm Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Liu Weimin issues a statement demanding the US to apologise for 'taking a Chinese citizen to the US embassy via abnormal means'.

5pm US officials say in a background briefing that Chinese authorities have stated that Mr Chen and his family will be relocated to a safe environment so that he may enter a university to pursue a course of study.

7pm Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton makes a statement on Chen, saying 'the United States government and the American people are committed to remaining engaged with Mr Chen and his family in the days, weeks, and years ahead'.

8pm Zeng Jinyan , wife of Chen's fellow activist Hu Jia , quote Chen as saying that he has no choice but to leave the US embassy, as he was threatened that his wife and children would be sent back to their hometown in Shandong .

10.04pm Foreign Ministry spokesman issues the second statement, in response to Clinton's comment, urging the United States to stop misleading the public.

11pm Chen tells Associated Press he has heard death threats to his wife and now wants to leave the country.

3am Chen and his wife tell CNN on the phone from the hospital that they are 'in danger'.

10am US Ambassador to China Gary Locke says Chen was not under threat to leave the US embassy.