20 May 2012

Chinese dissident Chen arrives in United States

3:03 pm on 20 May 2012

Chinese activist Chen Guangcheng has arrived in the United States after China allowed him to leave a hospital in Beijing and depart the country.

The blind legal activist's escape from house arrest in northern China last month and subsequent stay in the US embassy in Beijing caused a diplomatic standoff between the two countries.

After arriving in the United States Mr Chen said he was gratified the Chinese government had been dealing with his situation with "restraint and calm."

Mr Chen, 40, who taught himself law, was a leading advocate of the rights defence movement. He gained prominence by campaigning for farmers and disabled citizens and exposing forced abortions.

The US State Department said he was travelling to the United States with his wife and two children.

New York University said in a statement on Saturday that Mr Chen would study as a fellow at its School of Law.

State news agency Xinhua said earlier that Mr Chen had applied to study in the United States under legal procedures.

A friend of Mr Chen said he and his family obtained their passports at the airport hours before the activist was due to board a flight.

Mr Chen had accused Shandong officials in 2005 of forcing women to have late-term abortions and sterilisations to comply with strict family-planning policies.

He was jailed for a little over four years from 2006 on what he and his supporters say were trumped-up charges designed to end his rights advocacy.

Formally released in 2010, he remained under house arrest in his home village, which officials turned into a fortress of walls, security cameras and guards.

Escape from house arrest

Mr Chen's abrupt departure for the airport came nearly three weeks after he arrived at the Chaoyang Hospital from the US embassy, where he had taken refuge after escaping from 19 months house arrest in Shandong province.

According to media accounts, the blind activist climbed over the wall of the property with the help of his wife late at night, the BBC reports.

When he landed on the other side he broke his foot. He is then said to have felt his way in the dark, stumbling and falling, to a nearby village when a friend took him into his home.

He was then driven hundreds of kilometres away to the American embassy. He took refuge there during a visit by US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who was in Beijing for high-level talks.

On 2 May, after six days at the embassy, he agreed to leave the compound, initially saying he wanted to stay in China.

He was taken to a Beijing hospital to be treated for his injury. During his stay at the hospital he called the US Congress twice.

On 3 May he pleaded for help to leave China with his family, saying he feared for his safety. On 16 May he called US lawmakers again accusing Shandong authorities of harassing his family.

US President Barack Obama's administration had feared a standoff over Mr Chen's fate could sour already strained ties with China. Beijing has accused Washington of meddling in its affairs in the case.