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Chinese activist sought refuge in US embassy as last resort

BEIJING: Chen Guangcheng, the blind human rights activist who executed a daring night-time escape from home detention, did not 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.

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Mr Chen goes to the US Embassy

Chief Correspondent Paul McGeough takes a look at China's human rights.

But by April 26 authorities in Beijing had been informed of the escape and they increased surveillance of prominent activists and potential supporters of Mr Chen. When a 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 Herald.

''It was absolutely not a pre-conceived plan,'' Mr Hu said. ''It wasn't that he wanted to go to the embassy once he escaped, or once he got to Beijing.

''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 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 pre-arranged visit by the US Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, this week. Both China and the United States have refused to comment specifically about Mr Chen or confirm whether he is under US protection in Beijing, though talks between the countries are already believed to be under way.

Supporters of Mr Chen have said 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,'' Mr Guo told Reuters. ''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 Hu said he had not been in contact with Mr Chen since he himself was detained for questioning by police for 24 hours on Friday. He said Mr Chen had ''clearly'' told him he wanted to stay in China, adding that Mr Chen could have made life much easier for himself if he bowed to authorities before his arrest seven years ago.

''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 the more plausible outcomes included going into exile, or the more difficult task of convincing Chinese authorities to allow him to live freely within China.

Mr Fu said Mr Chen was now coming round to the idea of going to the United States.

''The situation has changed in the past few days,'' Mr Fu said. ''The most viable scenario is to negotiate a quick deal to allow China to make a face-saving agreement.''

A big factor in Mr Chen's decision is believed to be the safety of his family. Any agreement to go to the US 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.''