Meanwhile, the Chinese government said Friday (May 4) that Chen may apply to study abroad, and the U.S. State Department confirmed that Chen has been offered a fellowship from an American university where he can be accompanied by his wife and two children.
Chen, a 40-year-old self-trained lawyer who has been blind since childhood, was imprisoned and then placed under house arrest for exposing the barbaric nature of China's one-child policy. In one of the most tragic examples Chen had helped uncover, the government forced a woman who was seven months pregnant to have an abortion, and then forcibly sterilized her, LifeNews.com reported.
In his opening remarks at an emergency hearing Thursday (May 3) that later included an impromptu phone call with Chen, Rep. Chris Smith, R.-N.J., characterized the Chinese human rights advocate's story as "extraordinary and inspirational from the beginning."
"Blinded by a childhood illness, Chen pushed past profound barriers to school himself in Chinese law and to become an advocate for the rights of the vulnerable, including disabled persons and rural farmers," Smith, chairman of the Congressional Executive Commission on China, said.
"Years later, when local villagers told him their stories of forced abortions and forced sterilizations, Chen and his wife Yuan Weijing documented these stories, later building briefs for a class-action lawsuit against the officials involved."
The couple's efforts led to international news media attention in 2005, Smith said, and "their challenge to China's draconian population control policies spurred harsh and extended official retaliation including torture and beatings."
Congress has examined China's population control policies repeatedly, Smith noted, but the practices continue.
"China's government sometimes paints a false picture for gullible foreigners that the policy is somehow being eased, but the few exceptions they permit do not fundamentally modify its rough, harsh, brutal and ugly character," the congressman said.
Smith explained that family planning officials in villages and neighborhoods "maintain an extreme vigilance to exterminate" unborn children the government does not approve.
"The English phrase they use is 'family planning,' but the plan is not the family's plan but the state's plan," Smith said. "... When an out of plan birth does take place, they impose crushing fines on the couple. All unwed mothers are compelled by the state to abort.
"Among China's many coercions and tyrannies, this is the one that touches the most Chinese -- especially women who are victimized and the girl-child who is murdered in the womb or at birth," the congressman testified. "It was when Chen Guangcheng challenged these horrific violations of women's rights that the hammer fell."
For the past seven years, Chen and his family have paid a dear price for his advocacy efforts, Smith said. Refusing to back down, Chen escaped from house arrest April 22 in order to seek help at the U.S. Embassy in Beijing.
After testimony from Smith, Bob Fu of the Texas-based China Aid Association and others, Rep. Frank Wolf, R.-Va., asked if anyone had been in touch with Chen since Wednesday. Soon after, Fu and Smith called Chen in a Beijing hospital.
With Fu holding up a cell phone on speaker phone and translating, Chen told the commission he wanted U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to visit him while she is in Beijing on other business, and he appealed for the U.S. government to ensure the safety of his family, according to a China Aid news release.
Victoria Nuland, a State Department spokesperson, said the Chinese government relayed the belief that Chen "has the same right to travel abroad as any other citizen of China."
"The Chinese government has indicated that it will accept Mr. Chen's applications for appropriate travel documents," Nuland said. "The United States government expects that the Chinese government will expeditiously process his applications for these documents and make accommodations for his current medical condition.
"The United States government would then give visa requests for him and his immediate family priority attention," Nuland added. "This matter has been handled in the spirit of a cooperative U.S.-China partnership."
Clinton told reporters in Beijing she was encouraged by the development.
"From the beginning, all of our efforts with Mr. Chen have been guided by his choices and our values, and I'm pleased that today our ambassador has spoken with him again, our embassy staff and our doctor had a chance to meet with him and he confirms that he and his family now want to go to the United States so he can pursue his studies," Clinton said.
USA Today identified New York University as the American institution that had offered Chen a fellowship.
Also on Friday, Reggie Littlejohn of Women's Rights Without Frontiers, who testified at the hearing convened by Smith, confirmed that her friend He Peirong, known as Pearl, has been released from detention. He Peirong had helped rescue Chen by driving him to Beijing upon his escape.
"I am relieved and delighted that Pearl has been released -- the day after the congressional hearing at which her case was so strongly raised," Littlejohn said. "Some say that quiet, back door diplomacy is the way to deal with the detention of Chinese human rights defenders. But human rights activists have found that high profile, public pressure is far more effective."
In his remarks at the hearing, Fu of China Aid, a former Chinese prisoner himself, said the way U.S. officials handled Chen's departure from the U.S. Embassy "reveals a lack of basic understanding about China." The deal the American government struck with China "did not include measures for how to ensure the freedom and safety of Chen and his family," he said.
"How is it possible to believe that a government responsible for the long-term illegal imprisonment and the violent abuse of Chen Guangcheng and his family will now abide by this agreement?" Fu asked.
Tony Perkins of the Washington-based Family Research Council said May 3 the United States "lost its leverage" in such situations by placing the nation "in the awkward position of indebtedness to China," which owns at least $1.6 trillion of the U.S. debt.
"We traded away our ability to act as the 'city upon a hill' because the government refused to live within its means," Perkins wrote in his Washington Update email. "America, once a muffled voice of support for China's persecuted under President Bush, has fallen silent under this administration -- for fear of the economic repercussions.
"Now, pro-life advocates like Chen and his family are being beaten and tortured while the leaders of liberty fumble through negotiations for their release," Perkins added. "Although China's culture of oppression didn't happen overnight, it's another example of where this 'economic first' mentality will lead us as a nation.
"The United States has been a beacon for spiritually and financially repressed people around the globe -- but the flame of that light is flickering as America becomes servant to the lender (Proverbs 22:7)," Perkins wrote. "Let's pray that America finds her voice again in proclaiming hope to those yearning to be free."
Compiled by Erin Roach, assistant editor of Baptist Press. To read previous stories about Chen's recent ordeal, visit bpnews.net/bpnews.asp?ID=37757 and bpnews.net/bpnews.asp?id=37736. Get Baptist Press headlines and breaking news on Twitter (@BaptistPress), Facebook (Facebook.com/BaptistPress) and in your email (baptistpress.com/SubscribeBP.asp).
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