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Chinese Dissident Chen Guangcheng Asks U.S. Congress for Help

May 3, 2012 at 12:00 AM EST
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RAY SUAREZ: The uproar in both the U.S. and China over the treatment of a Chinese activist grew today. And conflicting stories about the status and wishes of the now world-famous dissident are complicating the situation.

There was chaos outside the hospital room in Beijing where Chen Guangcheng first indicated he now wants to leave China. The blind dissident lawyer said he made this reversal in a phone interview with Britain’s Sky News after learning of threats made to his family by the Chinese during his six days holed up at the American Embassy in Beijing.

CHEN GUANGCHENG, Chinese dissident (through translator): The government officials came into my home, wanted to beat my family to death. They have put video surveillance cameras on the roof and inside my house, and, around my house, an electric fence. Then, when I was in the U.S. Embassy, I didn’t have information. Now I think the information — I have changed my mind.

RAY SUAREZ: His latest explanations in a series of interviews with foreign media today overwhelmed a major long-scheduled meeting with Secretary of State Clinton and Treasury Secretary Geithner and their Chinese counterparts in Beijing.

Chen says he hopes to leave in the company of Secretary Clinton. Chen left the American Embassy yesterday after U.S. officials said the Chinese government promised not to retaliate, saying he would be allowed to be relocate in a university town.

U.S. Ambassador Gary Locke accompanied Chen from the embassy to the hospital.

GARY LOCKE, U.S. ambassador to China: He’s never asked for asylum. He never asked for asylum at any point while he was at the embassy. And even in his video that he released, he said he wanted to be a freedom fighter in China.

RAY SUAREZ: But Chen says he began questioning the Chinese government assurances after his wife told him she had been beaten and interrogated by Chinese authorities.

China’s Foreign Ministry spokesman, Liu Weimin, disputed those charges.

LIU WEIMIN, spokesman, Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs (through translator): I don’t know what you are referring to, but as China is a country of law, the legitimate rights and interests of any citizen are protected by its constitution and laws. We also believe that every Chinese citizen has the obligation to abide by China’s constitution and laws.

JEFFREY BROWN: And while Chen hasn’t formally requested asylum, Ambassador Locke acknowledged the State Department is reassessing the situation.

GARY LOCKE: It’s apparent that he’s had some change of heart. We’ve got to deal with that, and so we want to sit down with him and his family together, his wife together. Let’s find out exactly what they’re thinking and let’s explore the options.

RAY SUAREZ: Secretary Clinton didn’t mention Chen by name at the meeting with Chinese President Hu Jintao, but reiterated the U.S. position on human rights.

SECRETARY OF STATE HILLARY CLINTON: Now, of course, as part of our dialogue, the United States raises the importance of human rights and fundamental freedoms, because we believe that all governments do have to answer to citizens’ aspirations for dignity and the rule of law, and that no nation can or should deny those rights.

RAY SUAREZ: The Chen story also landed on U.S. shores today. The daily briefing of White House Press Secretary Jay Carney was dominated by questions about Chen.

And Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney criticized the administration’s handling of the case, saying it would be a day of shame for the U.S. if the administration was trying to curry favor with the Chinese government.

Late this afternoon, at a congressional hearing, the chairman connected on his cell phone to Chen.

CHEN GUANGCHENG, Chinese dissident (through translator): So I do think all the villagers who are helping me were also — I mean, receiving retribution. I want to thank all of you for your care and for your love.

RAY SUAREZ: For the time being, American officials have been barred from seeing Chen at the hospital.