WASHINGTON — Blind Chinese activist Chen Guangcheng, who is now in the United States after a diplomatic standoff between Washington and Beijing, said Thursday he endured “suffering beyond imagination” at home.
Chen, a self-taught lawyer subjected to years of jail and house arrest for exposing abuses in China’s one-child policy, arrived in New York on Saturday, capping weeks of crisis between the world’s two largest economies.
The 40-year-old last month pulled off an escape worthy of Hollywood. Despite being blind, he scaled walls in the dead of night as a getaway car took him from the eastern province of Shandong to the US embassy in Beijing.
When asked to describe what it was like to be a prisoner in his own home in Dongshigu village, Chen said, speaking through a translator, that it was difficult to discuss it.
“It’s hard for me to describe what it was like during that time. But let’s just say that my suffering was beyond imagination,” Chen told CNN, according to excerpts from an interview to be aired later Thursday on Anderson Cooper 360.
“Let’s not use the word house arrest, but instead let’s use the term illegal detention.”
When asked to discuss in detail reports that he and his wife were repeatedly beaten during their house arrest, Chen said: “I don’t want to talk about it right now… I still need time to gather my thoughts.”
He also expressed gratitude to those who had helped him to reach Beijing.
Chen again voiced concern about possible retribution faced by his relatives including his nephew Chen Kegui, who has been charged with “intentional murder” after attacking intruders at his home apparently searching for the activist.
“If action under such circumstances was not called self-defense, would there be any meaning left in having the term self-defense in Chinese law?” Chen said.
Chen won praise for investigating forced sterilizations and late-term abortions under China’s one-child family planning policy, but was jailed for more than four years and placed under house arrest upon his release in 2010.
Chinese and American diplomats scrambled to find a solution after Chen sought refuge at the US embassy in Beijing. Once he left the diplomatic mission, he said he wished he had not, and wanted to go to the United States.
After being holed up for more than two weeks at a Beijing hospital with his fate still uncertain, Chen was suddenly given notice to pack up his belongings and prepare for departure to New York.
The 40-year-old Chen, who is to become a research fellow at New York University’s School of Law, has repeatedly said he is not seeking exile in the United States and may one day want to go back to China.
When asked about being outside and feeling the warmth of the sun after escaping, Chen told CNN: “I have missed out for too long.”