Capitol Hill hearings are often tedious, but that wasn’t the case Thursday when Bob Fu dramatically put Chinese dissident Chen Guangcheng on speaker phone for all to hear first hand of his plight.
Speaking from his hospital room in Beijing, the blind activist at the center of a human rights dispute between the United States and China, told members of Congress he would like to come to the United States “to rest,’’ but left open the question of whether he was seeking political asylum.
Chen spent six days at the U.S. Embassy after escaping house arrest in his village in Shandong province, somehow eluding dozens of state security agents ringing his home.
Fu, who heads the Texas-based ChinaAid Assn, knelt next to Congressman Chris Smith, a New Jersey Republican, with his cell phone pressed to his ear, speaking Chinese to his friend Chen and translating his comments into English for the lawmakers.
Smith, a prominent champion of human rights who called the hearing, told Chen: ``Your case is the test of the Chinese commitment to protect you….but also a test to the United States of whether or not human rights really matter.’’
Smith also warned that Chen's expressed gratitude should be taken "with a grain of salt," and accused the U.S. government of having "dropped the ball" in his case.
Chen’s remarks added more confusion to the twisting case in which a deal between U.S. and Chinese officials that would have allowed him to stay in China free of repression began unraveling almost as soon as it was reached.
Witnesses at the hearing testified that the U.S. embassy had escorted Chen to the hospital where he is now being treated for injuries sustained in the escape, but left when visiting hours ended at 9 p.m. The deal was not put in writing and began to fall apart within hours of Chen’s departure from the embassy. Human rights advocates charged that Chen was rushed out the door to try to conclude the messy diplomatic issue ahead of high-level trade and security talks between U.S. and Chinese Cabinet members this week.
Chen asked to meet face-to-face with Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, who was in Beijing for the talks, and reportedly helped negotiate the failed deal.
"I hope I can get more help from her," Fu said in translating Chen’s comments, saying the dissident wanted to personally thank Clinton.
Chen also said he fears for family members’ lives. He said that after he was discovered missing on April 22, his daughter was pulled out of school. "All the villagers who helped me are facing retribution,’’ Chen said. "I'm concerned most right now with the safety of my mother and brothers. I really want to know what's going on with them."
Chen, 40, has been imprisoned and harassed for the past decade for speaking out against forced abortions and sterilizations as Chinese authorities brutally enforce the one-child policy aimed at population control.
``I want to come to the U.S. to rest. I have not had a rest in ten years,’’ the activist said over speakerphone.
Chen ended the call by expressing his thanks "for your care and for your love.’’
--Richard Simon in Washington and Barbara Demick in New York