Chen Escape 'Like a Movie'

Blind activist wants to remain in China to work for human rights, friend says.
2012-04-30
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Plainclothes security monitor the entrance to Dongshigu village in Shandong where Chen Guangcheng was held under house arrest, April 28, 2012.
AFP

The escape of blind Shandong dissident Chen Guangcheng from his closely guarded home following 20 months of beatings and house arrest at the hands of local authorities was a daring feat by the activist, who is now reportedly under U.S. protection and the subject of high-level talks between Beijing and Washington, according to a close friend and fellow activist.

Beijing-based rights activist Hu Jia, who was himself released last year following a three-year jail term for subversion, said he had met with Chen in recent days.

He said he heard first-hand the dramatic tale of Chen's escape from the family home in Dongshigu village, which was guarded round-the-clock by hundreds of officials and hired security guards.

In the small hours of April 21, Chen managed to scale a high wall surrounding his residential compound, dropping down the other side, with little idea of its height, or what was at the bottom.

"He jumped from a high wall in the dead of night and injured his leg," Hu said in an interview on Monday. "The whole process was extremely painful for him, and he nearly gave up."

"But he stuck it out, and kept going, in such circumstances," he said. "He probably fell over around 200 times."

"According to [Chen's] memory, it took around 20 hours for him to get away from danger and to meet up with the volunteers [who helped him]," he said.

Hu said Chen was soaked from head to foot and his clothes torn when he met the two activists who had come to take him to safety.

"He had already tried to dig a tunnel through to the neighbors' house, about two meters long," Hu said. "In the process, some of the earth had to be taken out, and they covered it up with dead leaves."

"It was a bit like a scene from a movie."

Unfortunately, Hu said, Chen's guards later discovered the tunnel.

Did a guard help?

Hu's story chimes in with a meme that spread rapidly on China's highly controlled Internet linking Chen's escape to the Hollywood movie, the Shawshank Redemption.

Netizens circulated a cartoon of two green pigs from the Angry Birds video game looking through a hole in a wall, as if at an absconded inmate.

Meanwhile, a report in the New York Times said that Chen's escape was likely aided by a paid security guard who took pity on the activist and his family.

China's state security police, clearly keen to learn the details of Chen's escape for themselves, took Hu in for questioning on Saturday, shortly after Chen posted a video detailing 20 months of privation and torture at the hands of local officials, calling for an official investigation.

"They were mostly interested in the Chen Guangcheng incident ... how he managed to get away, who went to meet him, and how he got to Beijing, and which day he got there," he said.

"They wanted to know his initial location in Beijing, and at what point he got inside the U.S. Embassy."

"They even asked me things I had absolutely no way of knowing, like at what time [Chen] met with [U.S. Ambassador] Gary Locke," Hu said.

"I don't know how they imagined I could have got into the U.S. Embassy in the past few days, given that they have me under 24-hour surveillance and that three cars follow me wherever I go," he said.

Hu said it hadn't been Chen's intention to seek political asylum in the U.S.

"His aim certainly wasn't to leave China," Hu said. "He just wanted to rest up there for a while, to find a safe, free space, and then go back to his rights work in China."

Hu said he was held by state security police for 24 hours, subjected to rough treatment, and deprived of sleep, before being released. The police had also forbidden him to travel to Anhui on a planned Buddhist meditation retreat, he added.

Reported by Grace Kei Lai-see for RFA's Cantonese service, and by Qiao Long for the Mandarin service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.