WASHINGTON (AP) — Chinese activist Chen Guangcheng announced Wednesday that he had new affiliations with three U.S. institutions after leaving New York University under disputed circumstances. He said they would provide him a fresh platform to speak out against the Chinese's government's "inhumane brutality."
The blind dissident's escape from house arrest in China in 2012 sparked a diplomatic crisis after he took refuge in the U.S. Embassy in Beijing. The new U.S. affiliations cover a wide ideological range, which may go some way to countering concerns that he's aligned himself too closely identified with American conservatives as he wages his war of words with Beijing.
For the next three years, he will be supported in his studies and human rights advocacy by the Witherspoon Institute, a conservative think tank in Princeton, N.J., the Catholic University of America in Washington, and the Lantos Foundation, a human rights organization in Concord, N.H.
"I believe that human rights supersede partisan politics and (are) greater than national borders as well," Chen said at a news conference. Speaking through an interpreter, the self-trained lawyer said his goal would be to push China toward democracy and constitutional government.
For the time being he'll remain in New York, where his two children are in school, with a view to relocating later to Washington. Chen's flight to the U.S. Embassy on the eve of high-level U.S.-China talks last year ago complicated the Obama administration's efforts to foster more cooperative relations with the Asian power, which has seen remarkable economic growth but brooks no political dissent.
With the agreement of China, Chen and his family came to the United States, and since last May, he'd been a special student at NYU's U.S.-Asia Law Institute. He has said that NYU forced him to leave because of pressure from the Chinese government. The school denies that, saying that his one-year fellowship was up.
Chen expressed gratitude Wednesday for the "assistance and care" NYU had provided, but made clear he still felt the university had faced pressure from Beijing. "The threat posed by the Chinese communist authority to the free world is very clear and that threat is not only posed to academia but also to other parts of society," Chen said in response to a question. "I hope in future more people will be courageous enough to stand up and share those experiences."
Since relocating to America, Chen has redoubled his blistering criticism of Beijing, and on Wednesday he referred to the Chinese government as an "evil power." He also said an intensified crackdown on social media by Chinese leader Xi Jinping pointed to the government's lack of confidence and the growth of civil society in China.
"We can see that in the future, change will definitely take place," he said. Even before his escape, Chen had gained international renown for his defiance of local officials in his native Shandong province. They had kept him in prison or under house arrest in what had seemed a personal vendetta for his activism exposing forced abortions and other abusive enforcement of family planning limits in the rural communities around his home.
Chen complains that Chinese authorities have reneged on assurances made to U.S. diplomats before he left the country that his relatives in China would be treated according to the law. Chen's nephew, Chen Kegui, was convicted last November of attacking officials who stormed his house looking for his uncle and sentenced to three years and three months in prison.
Chen said he remains concerned about the health of his nephew, who is suffering from appendicitis but has been denied medical parole. Chen said Chen Kegui has had a medical examination in prison, but according to Chen's brother who visited his son last Friday, authorities still can't figure out his condition and how to treat it.