BEIJING, April 28 (AFP) A leading Chinese activist who escaped from house arrest last weekend is now under US “protection” and Washington and Beijing are in talks over his status, an overseas rights group said Saturday.
Chen Guangcheng, who has been blind since childhood, fled last Sunday with the help of his supporters from under the noses of dozens of guards, and subsequently recorded a video alleging abuses against him and his family.
China Aid, a group run by the former Tiananmen Square democracy activist Bob Fu, said it had learned from a “source close to the Chen Guangcheng situation” that the activist was now “under US protection”.
“High-level talks are currently under way between US and Chinese officials regarding Chen's status,” said the statement, which also called on the United States to ensure the safety of the activist and his family.
Fu fled China for the United States in 1996, but has been in close contact with Chen and his supporters.
On Friday, he said the activist was in a “100 percent safe” location in Beijing, while the outspoken government critic Hu Jia, who is close to Chen, told AFP the activist is likely holed up in the US embassy.
A decision to grant him refuge could prove a major diplomatic irritant, with US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner due in Beijing next week for annual talks on their often testy relationship.
The United States has expressed concern about Chen, but refused any comment on his whereabouts, underscoring the huge sensitivity of the issue.
Chen, 40, won worldwide acclaim for exposing forced sterilisations and late-term abortions under China's “one child” policy, and for using his legal knowledge to help people battle a range of other perceived injustices.
He and his family were put under round-the-clock house arrest after he completed a four-year jail sentence in September 2010. He has said he was being punished for defiantly continuing to speak out.
China's state-controlled media has made no mention of Chen's escape, while Vice Foreign Minister Cui Tiankai refused to respond to questions about Chen's whereabouts at a media briefing on the upcoming US-China talks on Saturday.
“It is a very hot potato for both sides, if true. It is very, very sensitive politically,” said Zhu Feng, an expert on China's foreign relations at Peking University.