Chen Guangcheng, who is now in hospital after leaving the US embassy in Beijing, has caused a diplomatic spat between Beijing and Washington. Officials from both countries have held talks over his future.
Even when he appeared to be safe at the US embassy in Beijing, Chen claimed he was pressured and threatened by Chinese authorities to leave. The US Department of State has not confirmed these claims that Chinese officials threatened to beat his wife to death if he did not leave the embassy.
Chen is now seeking asylum in the US. He said he wanted to leave China because he feared for his life. The assurance made by Beijing that the 40-year-old would be able to study law in a "safe atmosphere" didn't seem appealing.
Chen is a critic of China's harsh one-child policy
Chen lost his eyesight as a child. But with a strong will, he taught himself law in the 1990s. He used his knowledge to counter the brutal implementation of the one-child policy in his home province, Shandong. He accused the local authorities of over 7,000 cases of forced sterilization or abortion of women in late stages of pregnancy. He said it was a violation of Chinese law.
In the year 2006, the American weekly news magazine Time listed him in the top 100 most influential people. He had already been under house arrest at that time. He had been sentenced to over four years of imprisonment in August of 2006 - for supposedly holding up traffic. According to Chen's wife, he was abused in jail. It is said he even went on hunger strike.
80 security guards for one blind activist
In September 2010, the rights activist was released from jail. But he was far from free. Surveillance cameras were installed around Chen's house. His village became a maximum-security unit. Around 80 guards were installed to watch him. The secret police prevented him from leaving his home, harassed him and mistreated his wife and mother. Last year, Chen managed to smuggle out a video about his daily life under surveillance. When the authorities found out, he was severely beaten.
At the end of April, Chen was able to escape to the US embassy in Beijing. In the past, the US Department of State has spoken out in his favor. US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton mentioned him last in a speech in November. Chen's escape has cast a shadow over China-US talks, which are taking place in Beijing.
Author: Matthias von Hein / sb
Editor: Shamil Shams