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Chen Fears Supporters Will Pay For His Escape


It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Good morning. I'm Steve Inskeep.


And I'm David Greene. In China, uncertainty still surrounds the fate of dissident Chen Guangcheng. He remains in a hospital receiving treatment after his dramatic escape from house arrest to the U.S. Embassy. Chen says he's had positive indications that he will be able to apply for a passport to study in the United States. At the same time, he remains under the control of the security apparatus in China. As NPR's Louisa Lim reports from Beijing, many of his supporters are being punished for their part in his escape.

LOUISA LIM, BYLINE: Security rings the hospital where Chen Guangcheng remains as the wheels of diplomacy crank around him. This morning he told NPR he's confident he will be able to leave China for the U.S. He says he was visited yesterday by a government official. He took details of the abuses suffered by the blind, self-trained legal activist who'd exposed forced abortions by local officials. The government, he was told, has given its word.

CHEN GUANGCHENG: (Through translator) He said the central government has made its position clear, so there's no problem. They will help us, but the timeframe is not known.

LIM: But Chen says U.S. diplomats have been prevented from seeing him, though they have spoken on the phone and met his wife. He hasn't been allowed any visitors, apart from family and he's still fearful for relatives back in his village, especially nephew Chen Kegui, who's now in police custody. A lawyer who tried to help his nephew, Liu Weiguo, told NPR his movements have been restricted and he fears other repercussions.

LIU WEIGUO: (Through translator) My law career would definitely be influenced. Once you have a record like this, it influences all kinds of things. I don't think there's any rule of law in China. In China the most serious violations of the law are committed by the authorities, including the police, the prosecutors, and the courts.

LIM: Other supporters are paying the price, too. At least one is under house arrest having been badly beaten. Others are under increased surveillance. These include He Peirong also known as Pearl He.


LIM: This video was a big influence on He back in February last year. It was an appeal by Chen Guangcheng, detailing the conditions of his house arrest. After seeing it, she devoted herself to his cause. She was instrumental in his escape. After he dodged guards to leave his house, he got in touch with her and she drove six hours from Beijing to pick him up. She told NPR that until that point, she'd never even met Chen before.

HE PEIRJONG: (Through translator) What he suffered is more than what I suffered, so I don't regret it. When other people asked him for help he did what he could. He believed when he was in trouble, other people would help him. I couldn't let such a person become disappointed in his friends and in society.

LIM: She was detained for one week after his escape, but she's not willing to talk about that. Despite everything, she told NPR, she doesn't regret helping.

PEIRJONG: (Through translator) Up till now, my judgment has been correct. He's almost crystal clear, he's so transparent, and warm. It was the right thing to help him.

LIM: Chen's treatment now appears to highlight differences within the Chinese government over how to handle his case. Some officials have expressed support, but he remains under the control of the security forces. One U.S. based political commentator, Chen Pokong, believes China's hardliners, who control internal security, have been manipulating his situation.

CHEN POKONG: (Through translator) At the hospital they used all kinds of ways to psychologically terrorize Chen and make him change his mind, like strange phone calls and not letting his friends in or his wife out, and cutting off his telephone. It's a display of the domestic power struggle.

LIM: He believes the hardliners wanted to stymie the initial agreement, partly to damage ties with the U.S. They also, he says, want to justify their big budget for internal security. If Chen is a pawn in an internal power struggle, as many fear, that could mean a wider crackdown against activists and possibly a protracted disagreement about if and when Chen can leave China. Louisa Lim, NPR News, Beijing. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Beijing Correspondent Louisa Lim is currently attending the University of Michigan as a Knight-Wallace Fellow. She will return to her regular role in 2014.