Activist lawyer Chen Guangcheng left the US Embassy in Beijing on Wednesday of his own volition, US and Chinese officials said, but reports quickly surfaced that he changed his mind.
Supporters of Chen Guangcheng/AP
A US-brokered deal to win freedom for Chinese legal activist Chen Guangcheng appeared to be unraveling in the early hours of Thursday morning, as Mr. Chen, who is blind, indicated he feared for his safety and had changed his mind about wanting to stay in China.
In late night telephone conversations from the hospital where he was under observation, Chen told news outlets that no US diplomats had stayed to protect him, that he was scared and that he wanted to go abroad with his family.
His lawyer Teng Biao confirmed Chen’s change of heart in a Twitter post. “Guangcheng wanted to stay in China at the beginning but now it is very possible he has changed his mind,” he wrote. “I clearly felt his thoughts changing” over the course of six phone calls on Wednesday evening, Mr. Teng said. “Whether he left the embassy because he was threatened or for other reasons, now he obviously feels unsafe.”
Chen, a figurehead of the Chinese human rights movement, sought refuge at the US Embassy in Beijing last week after escaping from guards who he said had kept him and his family under illegal house arrest for 19 months, beating them repeatedly.
In a US-backed deal with the Chinese government, Chen left the embassy Wednesday with US Ambassador Gary Locke to meet his wife and two children at a hospital, where he was treated for a foot injury he sustained during his daring escape from his heavily guarded home in Linyi, Shandong province.
A senior US official said at the time that Beijing had acceded to Chen’s request to stay and live unmolested in China, and that Washington would “look to confirm at regular intervals that the commitments he has received are carried out.”