ChinaAid, a Texas-based activist group, said Chen was under the protection of U.S. officials and talks were underway between U.S. and Chinese officials about his fate. The U.S. Embassy, however, maintained its silence, declining to either confirm or deny that Chen was there, with a diplomat citing the sensitivity of the situation.
“Premier Wen, with great difficulty, I have escaped,” a grim-looking Chen, wearing dark glasses, announced in the video message. He detailed beatings that had been inflicted on him and his wife, injuring his wife’s back, ribs, elbow and eye, while being denied medical care.
Hu Jia, another prominent activist and friend of the Chen family, said Chen left his village in Shandong province Sunday night and arrived in Beijing on Monday. Hu said Chen was “in the U.S. Embassy or under the shelter of diplomats, at least.”
Neither the U.S. Embassy in Beijing nor the State Department would confirm or deny reports that he was at the embassy. That helped fuel rumors, including one that Chen was already on a plane bound for the United States, and possibly Washington’s Dulles International Airport. But a commercial flight that arrived Friday night at Dulles from Beijing did not appear to have Chen among its passengers.
If the U.S. government is aiding or sheltering Chen, it would be the first time the embassy in Beijing had played such a role since the crackdown on Tiananmen Square demonstrators in 1989, when astrophysicist and democracy advocate Fang Lizhi was given refuge at the embassy. He stayed there for about a year before China granted him permission to leave for medical reasons and settle in the United States. Fang, who later taught at the University of Arizona, died this month.
Chen’s escape and the YouTube plea to Wen seemed likely to embarrass the Beijing government just days before Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and Treasury Secretary Timothy F. Geithner arrive for long-scheduled talks on political and economic matters.
Clinton has repeatedly called for Chen’s release, yet his escape comes at a delicate time when Washington is trying to enlist Beijing’s help on a range of global issues, from containing the nuclear ambitions of Iran and North Korea to helping broker a cease-fire in Syria.
The Obama administration put up a wall of silence in the hours after Chen’s escape became public Friday morning. State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland, pressed repeatedly by reporters at the department’s daily news briefing, said only: “I don’t have anything for you on that subject.”