SHADONG PROVINCE, CHINA, May 19, 2012, (LifeSiteNews.com)—Chinese dissident Chen Guangcheng boarded a U.S.-bound airplane with his wife and children Saturday morning, ending a month-long diplomatic standoff and closing years of torture and imprisonment for exposing the nation’s brutal one-child policy.

United Airlines Flight 88 is expected to arrive in Newark, New Jersey, Saturday evening. 

“Thousands of thoughts are surging to my mind,” Chen told the Associated Press before embarking on his voyage in business class, with a tight curtain drawn around his family’s seats.

“This is the moment we’ve been working for, waiting for and praying for, for years,” Reggie Littlejohn, president of Women’s Rights Without Frontiers, said in a statement e-mailed to LifeSiteNews.com. “I can hardly believe it has finally arrived.”

Chen has accepted a fellowship to study at New York University Law School, arranged in part by professor Jerome A. Cohen.

Bob Fu, president of ChinaAid and a longtime advocate for the lawyer’s release, says Chen plays to stay in New York for two to three years, then resume his work from within China.

According to Fu, the relatives Chen left behind weigh heavily on his mind. “He’s happy to finally have a rest after seven years of suffering, but he’s also worried they will suffer some retribution,” Fu said.

ChinaAid is urging increased scrutiny to assure the safety of his extended family members, including his nephew Chen Kegui, his elder brother Chen Guangfu, and his sister-in-law Ren Zongju. “They are all facing possible severe punishment as a result of Chen’s escape from his house last month,” the organization warned.

Reggie Littlejohn stated, “We will continue to monitor and advocate for Chen’s family and friends who remain in China, especially his nephew, Chen Kegui, who has wrongfully been accused of attempted murder when thugs attacked him and his family in their own home.”

Littlejohn will be traveling to Newark to meet the plane Saturday evening.

Chen, the 40-year-old blind lawyer and activist, was imprisoned for four years after he exposed the brutality of the Communist nation’s population control measures. After his release in 2010, officials placed him under home arrest, turning his entire village in Shadong Province into an elaborately guarded fortress. He and his wife were often brutally beaten.

Chen escaped home arrest by scaling the walls of his village fortress, in the process breaking his foot, then being driven to the U.S.Embassy just as Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was scheduled to arrive for a high-level summit. Chen initially stated he felt pressured to leave the U.S. Embassy for a Chinese hospital. He added that, while U.S. officials promised to remain at his side, he was handed over to Chinese authorities and isolated from American officials during the time of his recovery.

U.S. authorities presented him with his passport just 15 minutes before he boarded the plane.

The dissident’s supporters say media coverage has sometimes slighted the role of the pro-life cause in Chen’s activism. American Family Radio host Bryan Fischer noted the New York Times story did not mention the Chinese government punished Chen for exposing the nation’s one-child policy until the 14th paragraph.

The story also stated Chen was imprisoned “for more than four years on charges that were widely seen as spurious.”

For Chen’s supporters in the United States, the release is a long overdue victory and a reason to keep the pressure on Beijing to end its practice of forced abortions. Littlejohn said she will “continue to advocate for the women and children who are victims of force abortion and involuntary sterilization.”