A blind Chinese activist sheltered in the U.S. embassy for nearly a week has emerged, and U.S. officials said China has agreed to relocate him to a “safe” location.
However, Chen Guangcheng told the Associated Press after departing the embassy he wants to leave China with his family because he fears for their lives. He also said U.S. officials told him Chinese authorities would have beaten his wife to death had he not left the embassy in Beijing.
In the same AP report, a top U.S. official denied the United States told Chen about threats of violence to his family. But the official said Chen was told his family would be returned to its home province of Shandong if he did not leave the embassy.
In Washington, State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said U.S. officials never spoke to Chen about any threats to his wife or children. But she said China had told U.S. officials his family would be returned to Shandong if he stayed in the embassy.
Earlier Wednesday, U.S. officials said Chen left the embassy and was accompanied by U.S. Ambassador Gary Locke to a hospital, where he was reunited with his family.
A U.S. official said Chen later spoke by phone with U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and thanked her for supporting his case.
Separately in a statement, Clinton said she is pleased U.S. officials were able to facilitate Chen’s stay and departure from the embassy “in a way that reflected his choices and our values.”
In response, China urged the United States to stop “misleading” the public about Chen’s case.
The Chen controversy is likely to overshadow high-level security and economic talks between the U.S. and China that begin Thursday. Clinton is in Beijing for the talks.
Chen, under house arrest since 2010, escaped from prison on April 22 and later took shelter in the U.S. embassy, sparking a diplomatic standoff.
A U.S. official said earlier Wednesday Chen did not request political asylum in the United States.
Also Wednesday, China’s official Xinhua news agency reported Chen’s departure from the embassy. It said Chen had stayed at the facility for six days before leaving “of his own volition.”
China’s foreign ministry demanded the United States apologize for taking in Chen, calling it an unacceptable interference in Chinese affairs. It also said the U.S. should give assurances no other dissidents will be given refuge.
Some human rights groups and activists remain skeptical the situation has been fully resolved despite Chen’s departure from the embassy. Phelim Kine, a senior Asia researcher at U.S.-based Human Rights Watch, told VOA that Chen is likely to continue speaking against China’s human rights violations.
“It’s very much our hope that the U.S. has carefully thought through the very real threats to the safety and well-being of Chen Guangcheng and his family and his supporters in China and has negotiated a resolution that takes those considerations into account and ensures that he will indeed be safe once he is outside of U.S. diplomatic protection.”
Kine said he would be “very surprised” if China’s agreement with the U.S. allowed for potential violations of Chen’s safety. But he does not think China’s handling of the issue represents a softening of its treatment of dissidents.
Chen is a lawyer and human rights activist who has been blind since childhood. He was given a four-year prison sentence in 2006 for exposing abuses under China’s forced abortion policy aimed at population control. He had been under house arrest since 2010, before escaping on April 22.
He posted an Internet video last week saying he, his wife, and young daughter were abused during his house arrest. He also called on Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao to investigate human rights abuses in China.