Chen Guangcheng has arrived in the US just weeks after escaping house arrest. He was met with cheers at New York airport, but observers doubt the Chinese authorities will forget his daring.
In the end, it all went faster than expected. Chen Guangcheng had said on Friday he did not know how long he would have to wait until the passports he had applied for on Wednesday would come. The blind activist told German's public broadcaster, the ARD, that the authorities had told him it could take up to 15 days and his application might not even be granted.
However, the next day, he was told to pack his bags and prepare for his departure, just three weeks after escaping house arrest, finding sanctuary at the US embassy and sparking a diplomatic crisis.
Hours later, he landed amid great rapture in New York with his wife and their two young children.
Four years in jail, followed by house arrest
Chen, who had said he wanted to leave China because he no longer felt safe, was first jailed in 2006 after accusing officials in the province of Shandong of forcing women to have late-term abortions and sterilizations as part of the country's "one-child" family planning policy. He was also charged with whipping up a crowd that disrupted traffic and damaged property. He served over four years in jail and was then subjected to house arrest in his home village.
His dramatic escape and his seeking refuge at the US embassy last month led to a diplomatic frenzy where US and Chinese officials scrambled to find a solution that was agreeable to all sides. Eventually, Chen agreed to leave the mission and went straight to hospital to be treated for a foot injury.
Finally in New York, Chen was grateful to have some time to himself. "For the past seven years, I have never had a day's rest, so I have come here for a bit of recuperation;" he told a press conference at New York University where he plans to study American law. He was also quick to praise the Chinese government's "restraint and calm."
Not perfect, but good
The Beijing-based human rights lawyer Jiang Tianyong said it was a good sign that Chen had been allowed to leave. "This is what civil society was hoping for. It's not a perfect solution but it's a good solution and it's encouraging. It shows that everything is possible. If you don't give up even things that seem impossible can become possible."
However, it is not an easy situation. Even though the Chinese government has not said anything officially, analysts have pointed out that the decision to allow a convicted citizen to leave Chinese territory just weeks after fleeing house arrest and also causing great international embarrassment to the authorities is unlikely to be forgotten.
Although Chen has said he is not seeking exile in the US and might one day return to China, observers doubt he will be welcomed back. Other dissidents who have gone to the US have not necessarily been allowed to return.
Moreover, civil rights activists are worried that his relatives could become the brunt of the authorities' ire in Shandong. His nephew Chen Kegui has already been arrested and his older brother has also come under fire.
"I hope people will continue to look after Chen Kegui and my relatives in Shandong, and the cases will be investigated," Chen Guangcheng told ARD before leaving China. "Only this will ensure justice and encourage people."
Author: Ruth Kirchner / act (AFP, Reuters)
Editor: Shamil Shams