Chen Guangcheng Arrives in the United States, Issues Thanks [with Video]

May 19, 2012 Updated: October 1, 2015

(Chen speaks to reporters upon arrival at New York University. Video courtesy NTD Television)

NEW YORK—After being spirited away from the airport after his 6:30 p.m. arrival, Chen Guangcheng, his wife and their two children were taken to his New York University’s residence on Mercer Street in lower Manhattan at around 7:30 p.m. It was a joyous day for human rights activists, politicians, and supporters who had helped Chen Guangcheng fight for his freedom. Chen’s family members, however, still remain in China under the shadow of the Chinese regime’s security forces.

“At the most critical moment, the U.S. Embassy in China gave me an opportunity for emergency asylum and helped me get through the most dangerous time. The American government too, gave me a lot of help,” Chen said to the press after arriving at his residence as a crowd stood cheering behind a police cordon.

Chen Guangcheng gestures before making remarks to the media
Chen Guangcheng gestures beside his wife Yuan Weijing before making remarks to the media, upon his arrival at New York University campus on May 19. (Andy Jacobsohn/Getty Images)

He thanked the U.S. officials for their effort to rescue him.

“Acts of retribution in Shandong have not been abated and my rights to practice law have been curbed—we hope to see a thorough investigation into this,” he said.

Chen Guangcheng’s dramatic April 22 escape from house arrest in his hometown of Linyi, Shandong Province, drew international attention and became a focal point of U.S.-China relations.

Chen was helped by several friends, before being picked up by staff from the U.S. Embassy in Beijing on April 27. He first left the embassy on May 2, under pressure from Chinese authorities who threatened his family if he did not leave American custody immediately; at the same time, a deal had been brokered that would have allowed him to stay in China and study.

The initial deal began to look less appealing when Chen was in hospital, however, in light of the probable interventions of Chinese security czar Zhou Yongkang. Security officials ultimately directed by Zhou kept Chen isolated. They seized and beat friends and colleagues who attempted to see him, and continued persecuting Chen’s family members.

When Chen finally expressed a wish to leave China, Jerome Cohen, a professor and expert of Chinese law at New York University, engineered an invitation for him that was supposed to save the United States and the Chinese regime further diplomatic embarrassment. On May 4 Chinese diplomats gave an indication that Chen would be allowed to leave, a process that was completed with short notice on May 19.

Supporters who worked for Chen’s release were relieved that he was allowed to travel to the U.S., but would not call the incident an unqualified success.

Representative Chris Smith, a staunch ally and prominent critic of the Communist Party’s human rights abuses, was excited about Chen’s freedom but said it doesn’t stop there. “Chen Guangcheng is free, but not all the Chens are free. There are lots of family members, his brother and nephew who are at great risk of retaliation. The United States and governments around the world need to rally for all the other Chens, their life and freedom.”

Rep. Smith chaired two congressional hearings on Chen’s case before the blind lawyer’s fate was decided. The first hearing led to a dramatic phone call from Chen, speaking from his hospital bed in China via the iPhone of Bob Fu, president of the Christian human rights organization ChinaAid.

Chen pleaded for an exit from China and supporters redoubled their efforts. They have not been able to help Chen’s nephew Chen Kegui, however. Chen Kegui was arrested by Chinese police and charged with “intentional homicide,” despite the fact that he did not kill anyone, after he defended his family from men that appeared to be thugs breaking into his home following Chen Guangcheng’s escape. Chen Kegui met the intruders with two kitchen knives he had hastily grabbed, slashing at them until they left. He went into hiding but was later placed into custody. Chen Kegui has been denied a choice of legal representation by local courts controlled by communist authorities.

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