Human rights activists cast doubt Wednesday on whether China would keep its promise to protect escaped dissident Chen Guangcheng, saying they are worried for his safety after his departure from the U.S. Embassy in Beijing.
"The U.S. may have acted hastily on the basis of an empty promise from the Chinese government to protect his safety," said Renee Xia, director of Chinese Human Rights Defenders. "When the U.S. diplomats leave town, what is preventing the government from disappearing him?"
Many in the human rights community fear that the U.S. and China pressured Chen to make a quick deal before a round of talks called the Strategic and Economic Dialogue, scheduled to begin Thursday, said Tang Baiqiao, an activist involved in the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests who now lives in New York.
The same fear was voiced by Rep. Chris Smith (R-N.J.), who said he would call an emergency hearing on Capitol Hill on Thursday to discuss Chen’s case.
Smith said he was concerned that State Department officials had rushed to broker an "artificial deal" without any guarantee that Chinese officials will abide by the terms.
Chen left the embassy Wednesday to undergo medical treatment in Beijing, ending his six-day stay there after his dramatic escape from house arrest. The blind activist had been jailed and confined to his home after exposing forced sterilizations and other abuses.
Although U.S. officials said Chen had freely decided to leave after Chinese officials promised that he and his family would be reunited, Chen later told Western reporters that he was warned his wife would be killed if he stayed at the embassy.
"I was worried about the safety of my family," Chen told Channel 4 News in Britain, saying his home had been turned into a prison monitored by seven cameras and ringed with an electric fence. He has told several news outlets that he wants to leave China.
Human Rights Watch said that in light of Chen's comments that he had already been threatened by government officials, U.S. officials had to be prepared for a swift response to any backsliding by the Chinese government. Amnesty International insisted that the U.S. must guarantee the safety of Chen and his family, calling it "a real test of the U.S. government’s oft-stated commitment" to human rights.
During a Wednesday news briefing, ChinaAid Assn. founder Bob Fu argued the deal that led to Chen leaving the embassy should be voided because China had "basically already violated it by threatening Mr. Chen" and his family.
"They are right now in grave danger," Fu said. The Texas-based activist said he had received "credible information" from sources close to Chen in China that the dissident and his family were denied food by guards at the hospital until late Wednesday, only being fed after someone called the U.S. Embassy.
Fu called on the embassy to send staff to the hospital where Chen was being treated Wednesday "to verify Mr. Chen’s true wishes" about staying in China.
-- Molly Hennessy-Fiske in Houston, Barbara Demick in New York City and Emily Alpert in Los Angeles
Photo: Rights activist Chen Guangcheng is wheeled into a hospital by U.S. Ambassador to China Gary Locke, right, and an unidentified official at left, in Beijing. Credit: Associated Press / U.S. Embassy Beijing Press Office