In an attempt to counter media coverage and public perception that U.S. diplomats abandoned a well-known Chinese activist at a Beijing hospital, a senior Obama administration official has provided RTTNews with a detailed timeline of the 36 hours in question, showing that Chen Guangcheng was in regular contact with members of the embassy staff throughout the period.
According to the official, embassy staff members, including U.S. Ambassador to China Gary Locke, accompanied Chen to Beijing's Chaoyang Hospital on Wednesday, where he checked himself in at around 3 p.m.
The administration official, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the matter's sensitivity, told RTTNews that U.S. officials also accompanied Chen's wife, Yuan Weijing, and family from the train station to the hospital earlier in the day. They connected the husband and wife twice by phone while Chen remained at the embassy. Once reunited at the hospital, Chen and Yuan met outside of Chinese government earshot, Locke has said.
Locke left the hospital soon after, but the remaining U.S. officials stayed an additional three hours, leaving at approximately 6:30 p.m., the administration official added, telling RTTNews they left only after hospital staff said visiting hours were over.
Officials then returned to the hospital on Thursday morning and stayed until the evening, spending an hour and a half with Chen's wife and children. They also helped Yuan to make contact with Chen's lawyer.
The senior administration official said the detailed information is meant to counter media coverage that Chen had been abandoned at the hospital by embassy staff.
"U.S. officials left the hospital but they spoke two more times to Chen by phone Wednesday. So again this is to shed light on the fact that Chen was not just left at the hospital. But there was a presence and there was regular contact," the official said.
Chinese activist Chen Guangcheng, known as the barefoot lawyer, was imprisoned by the Chinese government for two years in 2008 for campaigning against forced sterilization and abortions carried out under the One-Child Policy in Shandong Province. Once released from jail, Chen was put under house arrest for two years, during which time he and his family were repeatedly harassed and beaten.
Chen, who has been blind since childhood, escaped his home and prison Sunday and sought refuge in the U.S. embassy in Beijing. He left the embassy Wednesday and went to Chaoyang Hospital in Beijing to receive treatment for injuries sustained during his house arrest. U.S. officials said the move was made under his own volition.
"I can tell you that he knew the stark choices in front of him . . . He also was fully aware of the plight of his family if he stayed in the embassy," Locke told reporters at a press conference Thursday. "I can tell you unequivocally that he was never pressured to leave."
However, Chen has told multiple media outlets he felt pressured to leave the embassy. A plan presented to him by embassy officials, said to be agreed to by the Chinese government, says Chen can remain in China, study at a university of his choice, all expenses paid, get a college degree (he is self-taught), and have his complaints listened to by Chinese officials. However, even after agreeing to this plan, he detailed his wish to return to the U.S. with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, currently in China for high-level talks.
Media reports have varied on Chen's exact wishes and whether he told U.S. officials he wanted to remain in China. Fellow activists said Chen was forced to leave the hospital under the threat that Chinese government officials would harm his family. When pressed on this fact, the administration official told RTTNews, "On that note, in that realm, I would simply say Chen speaks for himself. He has been - I don't need to tell you - he has been very active on the phone."
Chen even called into an emergency Congressional hearing Thursday, speaking through fellow activist Bob Fu, who lives in the U.S. "He said he wants to come to the U.S. for some rest because he has not had any rest for the past 10 years," Fu said, translating Chen's remarks.
"We are trying to re-establish contact to get a sense of what he wants, what exactly he wants," the administration official told RTTNews. When asked whether the official could confirm Chen was still at Chaoyang Hospital, the official replied, "I think we would all know if he'd left the hospital, frankly."
by RTT Staff Writer
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