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Tracking bug on activist in New York

Dissidents inside China have long been accustomed to a lack of privacy. Phone conversations are monitored, emails are read and public security agents trail human rights activists when they venture outside their homes.

But according to officials at New York University, several electronic devices that were given to Chen Guangcheng, a Chinese legal advocate, soon after his arrival in the US last year were loaded with spyware designed to track his family's movements and their online activity.

Chinese dissident Chen Guangchen.
Chinese dissident Chen Guangchen. Photo: Reuters

Two of those devices, an iPhone and an iPad, were given to Chen by China Aid, a Texas-based Christian group that pushes for greater religious freedom in China.

China Aid president Bob Fu said that he was out of the country when Mr Chen arrived in New York so his wife, Heidi, handed over the equipment. The discovery of the tracking software came as a complete surprise, he said.

''This story is just crazy,'' said Mr Fu, an exiled Chinese dissident who championed Mr Chen's plight during the years of persecution he endured as an opponent of forced abortion.

The allegations, first reported by Reuters, threatened to further complicate an already messy situation surrounding Mr Chen's tenure at New York University.

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This includes accusations that school officials, bowing to pressure from the Chinese government, sought to curtail his public advocacy and then forced him to leave the Greenwich Village campus sooner than he expected.

With Mr Chen silent in recent days, Mr Fu has become one of his more vocal advocates, eagerly telling reporters of what he said were instances in which New York University tried to limit Mr Chen's access to conservative political figures and anti-abortion advocates.

New York Times

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