WASHINGTON, May 15, 2012 (LifeSiteNews.com) - As Chinese forced-abortion opponent Chen Guanchcheng awaits a passport to freedom that some fear may never come, his supporters are pleading for continued media attention as the affair threatens to be swept under the diplomatic rug between the U.S. and China.

The extensive international media coverage of Chen’s plight was highlighted as a key factor in his safety at a Congressional hearing Tuesday. The hearing also highlighted how such coverage was critical for the woman who helped Chen escape, who said she believes beatings or worse were in store at the hands of officials who kidnapped her, had it not been for such exposure.

“I would earnestly ask them not to forget Mr. Chen and his family, and his extended family, and others like He Peirong, who are risking their security and their lives on his behalf,” said Rep. Chris Smith (R-NJ), who chaired the hearing.

Chen Guangcheng himself phoned in to the hearing according to schedule, repeating a dramatic scene earlier this month when he had called unexpectedly during a similar hearing.

He once again expressed serious concern for his extended family, especially for nephew Chen Kegui, who has been charged with “intentional homicide,” a charge the elder Chen called “completely trumped up” and “totally absurd.”  Chen corroborated reports that the charge pertains to his nephew’s attempt to defend himself and his mother and father, who were severely beaten by government officials who raided their home in connection with Chen’s escape. Chen also observed that his nephew did not kill, but only harmed the intruders.

Otherwise, Chen expressed his gratitude to his overseas friends and insisted that, “I’m not a hero.”

“I just do what my conscience asks me to do. I cannot be silent, I cannot be quiet when facing these evils against women and children, and so this is what I should do,” he said, as translated by ChinaAid president Bob Fu. “I cannot be silent when we see and face these kind of evils.”

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Rep. Chris Smith said in opening remarks that now, eleven days after Chen stepped out of the U.S. embassy he had fled to late last month, police continue to block his exit from the hospital as well as visits from friends, media, or U.S. diplomats. Although a passport application for Chen was supposedly received by China on Sunday, which would allow him to accept a U.S. offer for a university fellowship, no word on the application has been received since then.

Chen said that although U.S. officials have not been able to visit him in person, he has been able to speak with them “every day” remotely.

One testimony at the hearing may have elucidated part of Chen’s struggle: Wei Jingsheng, a former Chinese political prisoner and founding chair of the Overseas Chinese Democracy Coalition, said that he learned from his negotiations with Chinese officials that their government, which he called an “evil cult,” is “not whole, but composed of several interests groups.”

“The promises of one faction often become targets of other factions,” said Wei in translated remarks. “They are only restrained by their interests, [and] not bounded by their promises.”

Reggie Littlejohn of Women’s Rights Without Frontiers reported that Chen’s associate, He Peirong, is still safe after being released from police custody for her role in freeing Chen from his home imprisonment in Shandong province. Littlejohn described previous treatment against Ms. He by government officials, including incidents in 2011 in which she was kidnapped, robbed, struck on the face 30-40 times, and sexually assaulted.

“This kind of accommodation, of kowtowing to the Chinese Communist Party and trying to exercise quiet diplomacy is very ineffective, but it’s when you have transparent advocacy that people are protected,” said Littlejohn.

The hearing also focused on the brutality of the one-child policy that was the driving force of Chen’s advocacy: witnesses included one Chinese woman, Mei Shunping, who described being forced to abort five children, the ensuing marital stress that caused her husband to divorce her, and her attempted suicide.

Russ Carnahan, D-MO, said that Chen’s story “appears to mark a watershed moment for U.S.-China relations,” while Rep. Smith again pointed out the injustice of the one-child policy that Chen was dedicated to exposing.

“When you talk about that kind of abuse of women that is unprecedented in human history ... with barely a peep of dissent from the Obama administration and the EU ... it is a whitewash that has no comparison either,” said Smith.

“My hope is that we are in the process of a game-changing reappraisal of our deprioritization of human rights in China, where wittingly or unwittingly we have allowed this terrible crime of forced abortions and forced sterilizations as we looked askance and pretended it wasn’t happening.”