According to Daily Mail
, he was jailed on a charge of "blocking traffic" and damaging property during a protest. Los Angeles Times
reports that Chen is a self-taught lawyer who was blinded by fever in his infancy.
The Chinese authorities held him under house arrest after he was released from prison in September 2010. Legal experts say there are no grounds for keeping him under house arrest.
Chen, 40, was placed under heavy guard at his house in Dongshigu village, in Shandong province, southeast of Beijing. According to the Daily Mail
, he was guarded by 100 men. The U.S. has not confirmed that he has taken refuge at its embassy in Beijing and the Chinese government has refused to give information on how Chen escaped guard. The U.S. Embassy, declining comment, referred inquiries to the State Department.
But ChinaAid said in a statement that it "learned from a source close to the Chen Guangcheng situation that Chen is under U.S. protection and high level talks are currently under way between U.S. and Chinese officials regarding Chen's status."
Pu Zhiqiang, a Beijing lawyer and human rights advocate also confirmed that Chen has taken refuge in the U.S. Embassy. He claimed he got the information from "reliable contacts." According to Zhiqiang: "Everyone knew about the suffering of Chen Guangcheng and his family but nobody dared raised his head over this and ignored it. Chen Guangcheng has been the most typical victim of this lawless, boundless exercise of power. But the day has finally come when he has escaped from it."
While Chen was under house arrest, human rights activists and lawyers, including the actor Christian Bale, tried to visit him in his home but were forcibly prevented by the guards.
reports that Chinese authorities have captured Chen's family to force him out. Chen's six-year-old daughter, his elderly mother and other relatives were rounded up. According to NY Post
, Chen urged Chinese Prime Minister Wen Jiabao to “protect my family, my wife and my elderly mother who have suffered intimidation and brutal treatment.” He said: “Dear Premier Wen, I’ve escaped after trying so hard. I am free now, but I am still very worried because my beloved wife and child are still under the devilish hands.”
There are concerns already that the situation could create diplomatic rift between China and the U.S. ahead of a two-day annual economic meeting and security talks in Beijing this week. The meeting will be attended by top U.S. officials, including Hillary Clinton. Los Angeles Times
reports that Jacques deLisle, director of the Center for East Asian Studies at the University of Pennsylvania Law School, said the situation could prove very awkward for both the U.S. and China. If the situation remains unresolved when Clinton visits Beijing, she will be forced to make a comment on it. Jacques said: "Right now there are some difficult diplomatic choices to be made... there is some scope for ducking the issue, if both sides want to."
reports that while analysts say it is "inconceivable" that the U.S. would hand Chen over to the Chinese authorities against his will, they also believe that China will not want relationship with U.S. to suffer over the issue. First Post
reports that a senior Obama administration official said: “I can’t imagine they will tank the relationship. This isn’t the same as a spy plane incident or Tiananmen Square. I do think they will try to manage it.”
According to Shi Yinhong, a professor of international relations at Renmin University in Beijing who specializes in U.S.-China ties, “China does not want to allow this case to have a lot of influence because it is not good for its foreign relations or its domestic politics." He added: "I don’t think the United States will play this card to embarrass China. They still want to influence China on North Korea and Syria. They want to limit this case’s impact because they know it is already embarrassing for China.”
Most analysts say both China and the U.S. would prefer "a quick, quiet resolution" of the affair to allow them proceed with the annual economic and security talks.
Los Angeles Times
reports that a similar situation arose in February when Wang Lijun, the deputy mayor of Chongquing, fled to the U.S. Consulate in Chengdu, saying that his life was in danger after he implicated the wife of Bo Xilai, a senior government official, in the death of a British business man. Wang asked for asylum but the U.S. refused him. After a 36-hour stand off, Wang was released to a Beijing official.
But Los Angeles Times
points out that unlike Wang, the U.S. would consider Chen a strong candidate for asylum because he is a renowned dissident "whose case has been addressed publicly by Clinton on several occasions."
reports that Bob Fu, president of a religious and political rights advocacy group campaigning for Chen's freedom, urged Obama administration to support Chen. He said: "Because of Chen's wide popularity, the Obama Administration must stand firmly with him or risk losing credibility as a defender of freedom and the rule of law."
According to Daily Mail
, Chinese human rights campaigner He Peirong, is believed to have helped Chen escape but she refused to speak on the matter and even denied on Thursday night reports that he has entered the U.S. Embassy. NY Post
, however, confirms that the "barefoot" lawyer escaped in the middle of the night and that He Peirong drove him 350 miles to Beijing and handed over to American officials.
He Peirong was arrested at her home in Nanjing on Friday.