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WASHINGTON, May 3, 2012 (LifeSiteNews.com) - In a Congressional hearing on Thursday afternoon, U.S. lawmakers and top human rights activists joined together to emphasize to the Obama administration that time was running out for U.S. officials to rectify the “scandal” of their handling of embattled Chinese activist Chen Guangcheng by facilitating his plea for freedom.
Rep. Frank Wolf expressed alarm at the handling of Chen’s case by the Obama administration, which stonewalled on the issue before giving human rights leaders and media a whitewashed account of a “very happy” Chen voluntarily leaving his place of refuge.
“You wonder if there were other forces at work. Had word come down from on high to take care of the Chen situation no matter what?” said Wolf, who said he would formally request to review all U.S. cable traffic “classified or otherwise” regarding Chen.
“This much is certain: the Obama administration has a high moral obligation to protect Chen and his family. To do anything less would be scandalous,” said Wolf. “The world is watching, both dictators and dissidents. The administration must be bold.”
Congressman Chris Smith, Capitol Hill’s top advocate for human rights in China, said that he had been prevented from speaking with Chen, who had requested a telephone call with Smith, and had been denied a visa to visit Chen by the Chinese Embassy since October. “The time has come for us to clearly and unambiguously raise the stakes. It’s time for change,” said Smith of U.S. relationships with China.
Bob Fu of ChinaAid told Congress that troubling news of U.S. officials transmitting the Chinese government’s threat to Chen’s family was verified when he asked Chen Thursday exactly what took place before he left the U.S. Embassy in Beijing.
“Chen was talked by a US government official before he stepped out of the embassy, and he was told it was a Chinese government message that the Chinese government wanted to convey that message through the US official, that if he chose not to walk out of the embassy on May the second, he would not be able to see his wife and his children again,” said Fu.
Fu reiterated what had been reported earlier, that Chen made the decision to leave the embassy on a lack of information, having been unable to see his wife or speak to friends before being escorted to a Beijing hospital. Fu said Chen also did not know before leaving the embassy that his wife had already been beaten and threatened with death, and that she had been told that if her husband didn’t leave the embassy, she would be killed.
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Fu expressed disgust at the lack of follow-up by U.S. officials, pointing to Chen’s inability to reach them despite repeatedly telephoning, and how Chen’s family was not even given food until U.S. officials, contacted by friends of Chen, pressured hospital staff. “They were suffering starvation their first night of freedom!” said Fu.
Jennifer Rubin of the Washington Post cited sources who confirmed U.S. officials rushed Chen out of the embassy to keep from ruffling Sino-American diplomatic relations, an effort covered up by promises from the U.S. that soon fell apart.
“The notion that we can offer protection to him when we can’t make calls to him at our discretion tells you something about the ‘deal’ we struck with the Chinese authorities,” she wrote.
Several human rights advocates on Thursday demanded further action from Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who has not commented on the crisis since a Wednesday statement saying she was “pleased” to facilitate Chen’s “stay and departure” from the embassy.
Chinese author Bei Ling in a CNN column said it would be impossible for Chen to live a peaceful life in China anymore - “surveillance, wiretapping and random threats will follow him everywhere like a shadow” - and strongly urged the secretary to meet Chen in person.
“Regardless of how busy Clinton is with high-level meetings during her time in Beijing, the well-being of Chen and his family must be a priority. A mere telephone conversation isn’t enough,” wrote Ling.
Michael Horowitz, Senior Fellow of Hudson Institute, expressed shock at “the sheer, utter incompetence” of administration officials in their haste to brush the Chen affair under the rug.
“[The Chen crisis] puts China on the defensive. It’s not our weakness, it’s their weakness,” said Horowitz.
Even though it would require a “diplomatic push” to obtain passports, Fu said he believed China would let Chen and his family get to safety - but only if the Obama administration stood firm.
Several commentators are beginning to describe the affair as an embarrassment to the United States, as its reputation as a safe haven from brutality abroad has been shaken.
Paul Roderick Gregory on Forbes excoriated U.S. officials for their “cowardice” in sacrificing a “fundamental moral issue” for diplomatic gain.
“Chinese dissidents now understand that the U.S. is a paper tiger worried more about the Chinese exchange rate and United Nations vetoes than about fundamental issues of human rights,” wrote Gregory.
Reggie Littlejohn of Women’s Rights Without Frontiers, a leading advocate against China’s one-child policy, also said at a press conference in Washington that Chinese dissidents are “feeling extremely betrayed right now” because the U.S. “basically handed over a hero from our own embassy.”
“This has done untold damage to the US as a human rights defender,” she said - damage that could only be rectified by getting Chen’s family safely into the U.S.