Details of Chinese activist's escape
By Alexa Olesen ,APBEIJING -- Chen Guangcheng's blindness was a help and a hindrance as he made his way past the security cordon ringing his farmhouse.
May 2, 2012, 12:32 am TWN
He knew the terrain — he had explored his village in rural China as a blind child and moved as easily in darkness as in daylight. He was alert for the sounds of people, cars and the river he would have to cross.
But he stumbled scores of times, arriving bloody at a meeting point with a fellow dissident — the first of an underground railroad of supporters who eventually escorted him to safety with U.S. diplomats.
A self-taught lawyer who angered authorities by exposing forced abortions, Chen is now presumed to be under U.S. protection, most likely in the fortress-like American Embassy in Beijing. Details of his improbable escape — making his way last week through fields and forest, then being chased by security agents in Beijing — are emerging in accounts from the activists who helped him.
Chen and his family had been harassed and kept under house arrest since the summer of 2005, except for a four-year period when Chen was jailed on charges of disrupting traffic and restrictions were eased on his wife and daughter. The couple's young son lives with his mother's sister.
After Chen's release in September 2010, the family was again placed under house arrest, their movements severely restricted, with even 6-year-old daughter Kesi subjected to searches when she came home from school. Chen and his wife, Yuan Weijing, were beaten several times.
The 41-year-old activist hatched his escape plan months ago with a simple idea — he would just lie still, said Bob Fu, founder of the Texas-based rights group ChinaAid and one of a handful of people to speak to Chen since he fled his village.
For weeks on end, Chen stayed in bed, saying he was too feeble to rise.
In fact, Chen wasn't well; his stomach was bothering him as it had for years. But he exaggerated his condition to lull the guards into a sense of complacency.
The ruse worked. The guards didn't look in on him constantly, assuming he was still bedridden, and when he escaped under cover of darkness, it took three days for them to notice.
“He did a darn good job ... He prepared for months, at least two months,” Fu said. “He didn't really move much, just laying in bed and making the impression that he couldn't move.”
The night was cool with just a sliver of crescent moon in the sky on April 22 when Chen slipped out of his farmhouse in eastern China's Shandong province. Blinded by fever as a child, Chen grew up exploring the nearby cornfields and dirt paths sightless, so he had his bearings.
It wasn't the first time he had run away from Dongshigu village and his bitter, nearly decade-long feud with local officials.
In 2005, Chen, his wife and a friend made a dash out of the village, running through a cornfield to evade guards. He and his friend got all the way to Beijing, where they met with diplomats and journalists, but his wife was captured. Days later, Chen was seized by security guards on the streets of the capital and returned to house arrest.