By Stefan J. Bos, Chief International Correspondent BosNewsLife
BEIJING, CHINA (BosNewsLife)– A blind Chinese activist who was supported by Christians in fighting against forced abortions and defending the disabled has left China for the United States, ending a near month diplomatic standoff between the two nations, witnesses said.
Chen Guangcheng, 40, was reportedly hurriedly taken from a hospital Saturday, May 19, to board United Airlines Flight 88, which took off in the afternoon from Beijing International Airport.
The flight was reportedly scheduled to arrive in Newark in the U.S. State of New Jersey Saturday evening local time.
In published remarks Chen said Chinese officials suddenly told him to pack his bags and that he was informed he would leave later in the day.
China Aid Association (CAA), a Christian advocacy group supporting reportedly persecuted Christians, said he was accompanied by his Yuan Weijing and their young son and daughter.
Witnesses said the family were driven up to the plane in a vehicle resembling a minibus. Chen was later being pushed in a wheelchair on the tarmac and then onto an elevator that took them up to a sky bridge that was connected to the plane, they explained.
“We are happy for Chen and his family. This is a great day for freedom fighters,” said pastor and CAA leader Bob Fu, who has been campaigning for Chen’s freedom internationally.
“This further proves that constructive dialogues with international pressure can surely produce concrete positive result. We pray for his family’s safe journey,” Fu added in a statement seen by BosNewsLife.
Chen Guangcheng’s escape from house arrest in northeastern China last month and subsequent refuge in the U.S. embassy was seen as causing huge embarrassment for China.
He was later brought to a hospital to be treated for injuries sustained during a daring escape from his home in Shadong province.
“I believe God was helping me,” he told the South China Morning Post newspaper.
“It was rather dangerous. There were guard posts around each wall,” he also said at the time. “I could only crouch and wait for an opportunity. When I felt they weren’t looking, I quickly climbed over,” he told the South China Morning Post. When he scaled a fifth wall, he fell to the ground. His foot was injured so badly he couldn’t walk.
It led to a serious diplomatic rift between the two superpowers while U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was visiting Beijing for an unrelated meeting to discuss global issues.
Chen told reporters and Fu in separate telephone conversations that he was “filled with thousands of mixed emotions that he just couldn’t express.”
He said however that he is very worried about the family members that he’s leaving behind, including some who are under house arrest, while one has been detained.
Chen, who has received a papers to “study” said he is not seeking political asylum and that he hopes to return China. He will study as a fellow at New York University’s School of Law, the institution said in a statement on Saturday, May 19.
Chen said he hopes that supporters and others in the activist community understand that he is “requesting a leave of absence.”
The U.S. State Department said it arranged documents for him and his family to travel to America, but China’s Foreign Ministry did not comment on the activist’s travel plan, though Beijing earlier made clear he may be allowed “to study” abroad.
A self-taught legal activist, Chen gained recognition for crusading for the disabled and fighting against forced abortions in his rural community at a time when Chinese authorities force couples to have just one child.
He was convicted in 2006 on what his supporters say were fabricated charges. After serving four years in prison, he then faced what he and supporters described as an an abusive and illegal house arrest.
The Associated Press news agency quoted Nanjing activist Internet writer He Peirong, who was instrumental in helping Chen escape from house arrest, as saying she was “very happy” to hear that Chen and his family left China.
“I hope that this will be a good beginning,” added He, who was detained for several days by police for helping Chen. “I hope that they will all be well and safe.”
Analysts say rights defenders such as Chen are seen as a new threat for the country’s Communist government.
Often from rural and working-class families, they are different than the students and intellectuals from the elite academies and major cities who led the famed Tiananmen Square democracy movement which was eventually crushed by the military in 1989.
At least several hundred civilians are believed to have died when the Chinese army shot at unarmed demonstrators in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square.