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NYU denies Beijing scuttled Chen Guangcheng’s fellowship

Chinese dissident Chen Guangcheng said New York University pulled his fellowship at the behest of Beijing. NYU and an American supporter of Chen say that isn’t true.

Chinese activist and whistle-blower Chen Guangcheng is accusing New York University of submitting to Chinese pressure in pulling a fellowship position he had held since arriving in the United States last year. 

Mr. Chen’s allegation follows a New York Post articlelast Thursday that claimed China had a hand in Chen’s departure from NYU. Chen, who is blind, issued a statement today blaming the university for bowing to “great, unrelenting pressure” from China, according to Reuters. The University insists his fellowship was only ever meant to run for a year and China has nothing to do with it.

Chen, a self-taught or “barefoot peasant lawyer” as he is known in China, gained international attention last year for sparking a diplomatic crisis between the United States and China.

For many years Chen had been under police guard at his home after exposing local authorities in Shandong province for conducting an unofficial policy of forced abortions and sterilization that ran into the thousands and was hidden from Beijing. Yet on April 22 last year Chen escaped, eluding police guards at night, and made it 300 miles to the US Embassy in Beijing. He arrived a week before the visit of US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton. 

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While he originally intended to stay in China, Chen changed his mind after expressing fear for his family’s safety, claiming that the government threatened violence against his wife and two children.

Since arriving in the US last May, Chen has been a visiting fellow at NYU, and has been provided with housing, food, insurance, and English and law lessons. But now Chen say the university is pushing him out for fear that his continued criticism of China will jeopardize its programs abroad, says the New York Times.

“The work of the Chinese communists within academic circles in the United States is far greater than what people imagine, and some scholars have no option but to hold themselves back,” Mr. Chen said. “Academic independence and academic freedom in the United States are being greatly threatened by a totalitarian regime.”

NYU has denied the accusations. University spokesman John Beckman says that Chen’s fellowship was only ever meant to last a year. Jerome Cohen, a member of NYU’s law faculty and a specialist on Chinese legal reform, who helped Chen secure the fellowship, has also denied Chen’s allegations.

“No political refugee, even Albert Einstein, has received better treatment by an American academic institution than that received by Chen from NYU,” Mr. Cohen told The Washington Post. Cohen explained that it would be unlikely for China to pressure NYU after it had already let him leave the country.

Yet Chen’s flight from China has not stopped the Chinese government from targeting the dissident through his family members. As The Christian Science Monitor reported, China has been persecuting his relatives who have remained behind. Chen’s nephew, Chen Kegui, was arrested for “injuring” local officials after they raided his house looking for his uncle soon after the escape and sentenced after a highly suspect snap trial. More recently, prison officials have allegedly denied him medical treatment for acute appendicitis.

Chen’s brother said the prison authorities have twice rejected his request that his son (Chen’s nephew) be taken from the prison clinic to a proper hospital for an operation. “They told me that my son had only a small problem that according to the regulations do not justify moving him,” Chen Guangfu said. “But if he has appendicitis I think he needs surgery.” 

As for Chen’s next moves, Radio Free Asia reports that he is currently in negotiations with Fordham University Law School about some possible future arrangement.