Chen Guangcheng, the Chinese dissident who captured international headlines earlier this month after escaping house arrest and seeking refuge at the U.S. embassy in Beijing, called into a congressional hearing today to tell the American people, "I am not a hero."
It's the second time that Chen, who was arrested in 2005 for condemning China's one-child per couple law, has called into a hearing in the past two weeks after he phoned into a Congressional-Executive Commission on China hearing May 3.
This time, Rep. Christopher Smith, the chairman of the House Foreign Affairs subcommittee on Africa, Global Health and Human Rights, asked the blind legal activist whether he had anything he would like to tell the U.S. people.
"I want to extend my gratitude and thankfulness to all those who care and love my family and myself, and our situation, especially the American people who show their care about the quality of justice as a universal value and I'm very grateful to all of you," Chen, 41, answered. "I am not a hero. I'm just doing what my conscience asks me to do. I cannot be silent when facing these evils against women and children."
Smith, R-N.J., said he called today's hearing not only to learn about the safety of Chen's wife and children, but also to rally support from Congress and the White House for Chen's extended family and friends.
Chen, who spoke personally with House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi last week, recounted to Congress how Chinese government thugs raiding his family's home at midnight "and started beating them violently." He called a charge against his nephew for intentional homicide "trumped up," and said it was "totally absurd, irrational, and unreasonable" to be accused of committing that crime against intruders in his own home.
"My elder brother was taken away by these thugs without any reasoning and then they came back and starting beating up my nephew," Chen said through a translator via speakerphone at the hearing. "What has been done by these public security officers is a total violation against the Chinese's own constitution and Chinese criminal law and those charges against my nephew is in contradiction of Chinese law as well."
After hiding out in the U.S. embassy for a few days, Chen eventually sought medical treatment at Chaoyang Hospital in Beijing after being told that Chinese officials would have killed his wife if he had remained at the embassy.
Chen is still awaiting an exit permit to study in the United States after accepting an invitation from New York University. State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said that visas for Chen and his family have already been approved and the hang-up is apparently in the hands of the Chinese.
"Eleven days later, Mr. Chen is still in the same hospital room, with his wife and two children under de facto house arrest," congressman Smith complained. "Although Mr. Chen is under the impression that his application for a passport was made last Sunday when he was visited by a Chinese official, and under Chinese law blind persons are supposed to be able to apply orally for travel documents, he has not been notified of any further action on the application."