Blind Chinese dissident Chen Guangcheng said Monday that pressure from the ruling Chinese Communist Party is forcing him out of an apartment provided by New York University where he had been living as a visiting law scholar since his escape to the U.S. from house arrest last year.
In a statement contradicting the university's version of events, Chen said his family had been given until the end of the month to move out of their accommodations amid prodding from Beijing.
"As early as last August and September, the Chinese Communists had already begun to apply great, unrelenting pressure on New York University, so much so that after we had been in the United States just three to four months, NYU was already starting to discuss our departure with us," Chen said in a statement posted on the website of the U.S.-based Christian rights group ChinaAid.
His rare public statement comes after last week's strong denial of any political pressure from NYU law professor Jerome Cohen, who was instrumental in bringing Chen to the university to study after the dissident took refuge in the U.S. Embassy in Beijing.
Chen said Beijing now exerts an ever-widening influence on U.S. academic life.
"The work of the Chinese Communists within academic circles in the United States is far greater than what people imagine, and some scholars have no option but to hold themselves back," he said.
"Academic independence and academic freedom in the United States are being greatly threatened by a totalitarian regime," Chen added.
University's 'extraordinary generosity'
Cohen, who has acted as Chen's mentor and adviser since hurried diplomatic talks following the activist's daring midnight flight from his heavily guarded hometown in Shandong's Yinan county, last week rejected initial reports that Chen was "booted out" of NYU, which is planning to build a campus in Shanghai.
He told the Washington Post newspaper in an e-mail last week that the college's "extraordinary generosity" towards Chen, his wife Yuan Weijing, and the couple's two children, couldn't be expected to continue forever.
In his statement, Chen thanked Cohen and others at NYU, adding: "[Their] assistance has allowed us to have a smooth transition to the United States."
Chen and his family have been given until the end of June to leave their present accommodation and have been told that they will have to seek hotel accommodation in the absence of an alternative.
Chen indicated the family was now facing financial difficulties.
"Whether it was the dangers I faced in China or the current momentary difficulties we face, I will never bow my head to evil or to lies," he wrote.
"China’s Communist rulers hope to use these means to disturb our normal life, and even want to make me so busy trying to earn a living that I don’t have time for human rights advocacy," he said.
'Chasing the China dollar'
According to ChinaAid founder Bob Fu, U.S. universities are currently reluctant to work with activists who speak out against Beijing.
"American universities are out chasing the China dollar," Fu said in a statement accompanying Chen's.
"It does not always have to be direct pressure from Beijing, there is also self-censorship, particularly if a college president believes their China campus or the future enrollment of Chinese students will be sabotaged."
A spokesman for New York's Fordham University has confirmed that the university's law school is "in negotiations" with Chen over his future study plans, but has given no further details.
Chen, a self-taught lawyer who exposed forced abortions under the China's one-child policy and defended the rights of ordinary people, was jailed for four years in 2006 for "disrupting traffic and damaging property."
After 18 months of house arrest in Shandong's Dongshigu village, Chen Guangcheng outwitted his guards and made his way to the U.S. Embassy in Beijing, where after a diplomatic firestorm Chinese and American officials eventually struck a deal allowing him and his family to go to New York to study.