Chen Release Coverage Turns Dark, Fast

Following hours of twitter comments from Chen’s friends and family, it looks like official coverage is starting to reflect growing concerns about whether or not the US and Chen just got played. From CSM:

Confusion surrounded the fate of blind legal activist Chen Guangcheng Wednesday night, as a friend said he had told her he had been forced out of the US embassy here by threats against his family.

“Chen Guangcheng called me and asked for help, he wanted outsiders to help him,” Zeng Jinyan told the Monitor in a brief telephone interview. “He said that at least he wanted his whole family to leave China.”

“Guangcheng did not want to leave the embassy but he had no choice,” she claimed in one post, since “if he did not Yuan Weijing [his wife] would be sent back to Shandong” where she and her husband have been under illegal house arrest for the past 19 months, suffering repeated beatings.

Zeng, who sounded highly stressed, refused to elaborate on her claims, which contradicted US accounts of the deal that US diplomats had helped Chen strike to secure his freedom.

The Guardian has quotes from Bequelin, who has also been lighting up Twitter over the last few hours:

“It raises the question of whether we can trust the promises not to retaliate against Chen Guangcheng and his family and supporters,” said Nicholas Bequelin of Human Rights Watch.

“It’s very difficult to see how China can honour the bargain given that the suppression of human rights activists and government critics are embedded in its political situation. This is what they do day in and out. There are no reassurances I can trust that Chen and his family will remain safe in the long term.”

Wang Songlian, of the Chinese Human Rights Defenders network, warned: “If he’s going to stay in China, reassurances are not very reassuring because the Chinese government has a record of not honouring its words regarding human rights.”

“The most worrying part is that his extended family is in Shandong and authorities could retaliate by detaining or torturing them. We know four are in custody and one [his nephew, Chen Kegui] is accused of injuring government officials.”

She gave short shrift to the Chinese demand that the US say sorry over Chen’s case.

“I think it’s incredible that the Chinese government would ask for an apology from the US when it has unlawfully put a human rights activist and his family under house arrest for so long,” Wang said.

Adding to the confusion is this WaPo article, which claims that the threat against the life of Chen’s wife was made after he arrived at the hospital and was relayed by US embassy staff, which is odd for a number of reasons:

In an interview from his room at Chaoyang Hospital, Chen told the Associated Press that he had been informed that his wife would be beaten to death if he did not leave the embassy. He said that U.S. officials relayed the threat.

Chen said he fears for his own safety as well, the wire service reported, and–contrary to previous reports–wants to leave China.

What initially seemed like a potential victory on the human rights front for the U.S. administration spiraled quickly into a potentially worst-case scenario, fueled by a series of updates blasting out regularly on Twitter. Chen was no longer under American protection, but in a Beijing hospital surrounded by Chinese plainclothes police. It was not clear whether Chen had left on his own free will, as U.S. officials maintained, or under coercion.

Still more as it comes in…

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