China activist sought US haven as officials closed in
Protesters in Hong Kong hold placards picturing activist Chen Guangcheng (third from left) with his family, and activist He Peirong (right). Photo: AP
THE blind human rights activist who executed a daring night escape from home detention, Chen Guangcheng, did not originally intend to seek protection at the US embassy, but did so after coming close to being captured by Chinese authorities, a fellow activist has said.
Hu Jia, who helped shelter Mr Chen after he escaped from his heavily monitored home in Shandong province on April 22, said a small group of activists had taken turns trying to keep the self-taught lawyer safe after he was driven 600 kilometres to Beijing.
But by April 26, authorities in Beijing had been informed of the escape and increased surveillance of prominent activists and potential supporters of Mr Chen.
When fellow activist Guo Yunshan was pursued in his car with Mr Chen inside, the decision was made to deliver Mr Chen to the US embassy, Mr Hu told The Age.
''It was absolutely not a preconceived plan,'' Mr Hu said. ''It was when we were trying to get him somewhere safe for him to stay that we decided the embassy was the best place. This was a very dangerous situation.''
Mr Chen is one of China's best-known activists, earning the ire of local authorities after he exposed a string of forced rural abortions and sterilisations as a result of China's one-child policy. He was jailed for four years in 2006 and has been confined to home detention since his release in September 2010.
His dramatic escape threatens to overshadow a visit by US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton this week.
Supporters of Mr Chen have said that he would be reluctant to leave China, as it would diminish his influence as an activist.
''He was adamant that he would not apply for political asylum with any country. He certainly wants to stay in China, and demand redress for the years of illegal persecution in Shandong and continue his efforts for Chinese society,'' Mr Guo told Reuters.
Mr Hu, who said he had not been in contact with Mr Chen since he himself was detained for questioning by police for 24 hours on Friday, said Mr Chen had ''clearly'' told him he wanted to stay in China.
''He thinks that in the next few years, China can do a lot of things and we can make history together,'' he said.
But having entered the US embassy, observers including Bob Fu, who runs the Texas-based rights group ChinaAid, say exile is the most plausible outcome.
Mr Fu said Mr Chen was coming round to the idea of going to the United States.
Any such agreement would only be made if his family -including his wife and six-year-old daughter - could go with him. ''When I met with Guangcheng he was most worried about his wife, Yuan Weijing,'' Mr Hu said. ''No one can get in touch with her.''