BEIJING – A blind legal activist fled house arrest in his rural China village and made it to a secret location in Beijing, setting off a frantic police search for him and those who helped him, activists said.
U.S. officials would not comment on unconfirmed reports Chen Guangcheng had sought protection at the U.S. Embassy – a delicate prospect as Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and other top officials visit China next week for the latest round of the two powers’ Strategic and Economic Dialogue.
Activists described an improbable escape, saying Chen slipped away from his intensely guarded home on Sunday night, was driven away by activists and then handed over to others who brought him to Beijing.
Chen also recorded a video as a direct address to Premier Wen Jiabao, condemning the treatment of him and his family and accusing local Communist Party officials by name. Activists sent the video Friday to the overseas Chinese news site Boxun.com, which posted part of it on YouTube.
Activist Hu Jia met with Chen after his escape and said the people with Chen later called him.
“They said, ‘He is in a 100 percent safe place,’ ” Hu said. “If they say that, I know where that place is. There’s only one 100 percent (safe) place in China, and that’s the U.S. Embassy.”
Claims of Chen’s location could not be verified.
Chen’s escape, if ultimately successful, would boost a beleaguered civil rights community, which has faced rising arrests and other harassment over the past year.
But Chen’s flight unleashed a police crackdown on his relatives and the people who helped him flee, activists said.
A self-taught lawyer blinded by fever in infancy, Chen served four years in prison for exposing forced abortions and sterilizations in his and surrounding villages. Since his release in September 2010, local officials confined him to his home, despite the lack of legal grounds for doing so, beating him up on several occasions.