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Chen Guangcheng Now Wants Asylum in the U.S.

Even though it was widely reported that blind Chinese dissident Chen Guangcheng left the U.S. embassy yesterday on his own volition for a "safe location" somewhere in China, Chen is now saying that he was not given full information about his release and is asking for asylum in the U.S.

According to a variety of news sources, Chen left the U.S. Embassy in Beijing yesterday, a week after seeking shelter there following an escape from house arrest. Official reports say he was "happy" after receiving "clear assurances" from Beijing that he was free to reunite with his family and could stay in China and study law.

Chen reportedly spoke to Secretary of State Hilary Clinton by cell phone after being escorted to a local hospital where he was joined by his wife and two children. He is said to have told her, "I want to kiss you" in thanks for her help negotiating the deal.

In a statement, Mrs Clinton said: "I am pleased that we were able to facilitate Chen Guangcheng's stay and departure from the US embassy in a way that reflected his choices and our values. Mr Chen has a number of understandings with the Chinese government about his future, including the opportunity to pursue higher education in a safe environment."

 Bob Fu, president of ChinaAid, a human rights organization that has long followed Chen's career resisting forced abortion and sterilization in China, says that while he has been in contact with U.S. officials, he has also been receiving reports from people close to Chen who tell a different story. They say that the dissident's departure from the diplomatic protection of the U.S. Embassy was done reluctantly because "serious threats to his immediate family members were made by Chinese government" if Chen refused to accept their offer to stay in China rather than seek asylum in the U.S.

Fu's press release states that "Relevant reports also show that unfortunately the US side 'has abandoned Mr. Chen'."

"We are deeply concerned about this sad development if the reports about Chen's involuntary departure (from US Embassy) are true," Fu said, and claims to have known 15 hours in advance about the Chen "deal" through reliable sources.

"While we understand Chen's wish all along was to live as a free man in China, to seek political asylum was not the ideal option as he did not want to be an observer of the fight for reform and the rule of law," said  Fu. 

"He has the admiration of the world right now and that will perhaps help keep him safe in the short-term, but I am fearful what could happen if the world loses interest. The government sees him as a trouble-maker and a threat to their legitimacy . . . The free world has a moral imperative and obligation to ensure Chen's protection, his fight for freedom is one shared by us all."

Fu is calling upon both the Chinese and U.S. Governments to release details of the negotiations concerning Chen and his family so that the international community can hold relevant parties accountable.

As the hours progress, it is becoming apparent that Fu's sources are correct. Chen has relayed a message to President Barack Obama via CNN saying: "I would like to say to (President Obama): Please do everything you can to get our whole family out." He told the Daily Beast, "My fervent hope is that it would be possible for me and my family to leave for the U.S. on Hillary Clinton's plane." 

He also told the network that he is "very disappointed" in the U.S.

These reports have been corroborated by a woman named Zeng Jinyan, the wife of Chen's best friend, Hu Jia, who posted a series of tweets revealing that Chen did not leave the U.S. Embassy of his own volition and that he made no such comment to Hillary Clinton.

"Guangcheng called me and told me that he didn't say, according to media, 'I want to kiss you' to Secretary Clinton," Jinyan's tweet reported. "What he actually said was 'I want to see you'."

She reported that Chen also told her that as of last Friday, he was not permitted to make any phone calls to the outside world, that he was trying to reach U.S. Congressman Chris Smith, and that he and his family were willing to leave China.

Jinyan also revealed that according to Chen's wife, Yuan Weijing, the local authorities in their hometown of Shandong-Linyi have set up cameras in Chen's house and have posted guards "with sticks" in their house.

"Guangcheng didn't want to leave the U.S. Embassy, but he had no choice," Jinyan tweeted.  "If he hadn't left, Yuan Weijing would have been sent back to Shandong immediately.  Yuan Weijing told me: 'Jinyan, I am so scared...'"

According to Chen's lawyer, Teng Biao, even though U.S. officials insist that they had received promises from the Chinese government that assured the safety of Chen and his family, “The Chinese government has made many promises on many things, but they never keep their promise,” Teng said. “They like to punish people afterward.”

The U.S. promised to monitor Chen's case in the future, but experts say this is not going to be easy to do.

Nicholas Bequelin, a Hong Kong-based senior Asia researcher for Human Rights Watch, told the Washington Post: “I’m somewhat surprised by the U.S. government’s willingness to accept the Chinese government’s assurances or even to get Hillary Clinton to work for Chen’s safety in the long term. It seems they’ve taken a huge risk with this.”

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