Sunday, May 20, 2012

Chen Guangcheng greeted with applause as he arrives in New York

Chen Guangcheng has arrived safely in the United States after two weeks of uncertainty holed up at the Chaoyang hospital in Beijing where he had been receiving treatment after leaving the sanctuary of the US Embassy.

Long journey

For the blind lawyer and activist it had been a long and, at times, dramatic journey. That journey started on 22nd April when Chen escaped his house arrest and fled his Shandong home, climbing walls and stumbling across fields to a waiting car. He was driven to Beijing where he sought sanctuary at the US Embassy after having posted a video to YouTube calling on Premier Wen Jiabao to investigate his harsh treatment and human rights in China.

His stay at the embassy was short and he left to seek treatment at the Chaoyang hospital for a broken foot, sustained during his escape. His arrival at the hospital increased the media interest and before long there was an army of journalists and photographers penned in across the street.

For days it seemed unclear what would happen next. As Chen sought permission to leave China to study in America, US diplomats and the press alike were kept away from the activist who was fast becoming an embarrassment to authorities. Despite being reunited with his wife and two children, disturbing reports continued to emerge that Chen's extended family were being victimized.

Deal struck

On Saturday it seemed a deal had been struck behind the scenes, and away from the glare of camera lenses, after Chen Guangcheng was driven away from the hospital and whisked to Beijing International Airport's terminal 3. There he and his family were handed their passports with US visas attached and were, after several hours delay boarded on United Airlines flight 88.

Details were sketchy, and there was no clear confirmation that Chen was even on board until the plane was in the air some two hours later than scheduled.

Media coverage

News of Chen's departure broke on satellite news channels, but details also filtered through on Twitter. CNN's coverage was by far the most extensive with reports coming from Senior International Correspondent Stan Grant, Beijing Correspondent Eunice Yoon and CNN Producer Steven Jiang who boarded Chen's flight.

Sky News broadcast a series of reports throughout the day which included a conversation their Beijing correspondent Holly Williams had secured with Chen. BBC's coverage was light, with Beijing correspondent Martin Patience stretched between providing reports for both the television news channel and BBC World Service radio.

When Chen finally touched down on US soil at 18:16 local time, many media's coverage of the story had dried up. Sky had anticipated his arrival at Newark International Airport outside New York and had periodic live reports.

But waiting media were forced to change their plans. Officials decided that any statement by Chen was best made at the New York university where he is due to study. Sky's broadcast team were forced to rush through traffic to the university.

Sky News, nor the BBC, broadcast his nearly 20 minute address to the waiting media. In fact it appeared only CNN were broadcasting live pictures, via Reuters, as Chen gave his first statement.

Warm welcome

There were cheers from members of the public who had gathered as the dissident stepped from the car, and he was also greeted with a barrage of camera flashes. Smiling broadly, he said - speaking through an interpreter - that he was happy to be in America, and thanked everyone who had helped and given him support.

"Where there is will, there is a way," Chen said. And he called on both his supporters and Chinese authorities to tackle human rights in his home country. "We should link our arms and continue to fight for the goodness in the world and continue to fight injustice … I hope everybody works for me to promote justice and fairness in China," Chen told reporters.

Chen also complimented Chinese authorities. "I am very gratified to see the Chinese government has been dealing with the situation with restraint and calm," the activist said.

However, his pragmatism would not have been seen in China where news of his departure has not been reported. The last report carried by state media was published on the 4th of May when Xinhua carried a statement from a government official which said that Chen would likely be allowed to study in the US. A more recent report that referred to Chen's departure had been deleted on Sunday, though Baidu did still display a cached version of the page. Another report which did remain online merely quoted state media saying that Chen Guangcheng was due to leave China.

How long Chen, dubbed as an 'enemy of the state' by some broadcasters, makes his home in the US is as yet unclear. But at least now he will not suffer the fear of further persecution [BBC / Sky / CNN / Guardian]

tvnewswatch, London, UK

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