29 Apr 2012

US and China in talks over escaped dissident

4:56 am on 29 April 2012

US-based dissident group, China Aid, says high-level talks are underway between American and Chinese officials over the prominent Chinese activist Chen Guangcheng who made a dramatic escape from house arrest five days ago.

Mr Chen is in hiding in Beijing after escaping from house arrest in Shandong province. A fellow activist Hu Jia told the BBC that Mr Chen, who is blind, scaled a high wall and was driven hundreds of kilometres to Beijing. He had been under house arrest since his release from jail in 2010.

China Aid said a source close to the situation had told the group Mr Chen, who is one of China's best known dissidents, was under United States protection and talks were taking place between American and Chinese officials about his status.

China Aid is calling it a pivotal moment for US human rights diplomacy. Neither country has commented on claims by Hu Jia that Mr Chen is in in the US embassy in Beijing.

Activists say since his escape Mr Chen has released a video addressed to Prime Minister Wen Jiabao.

There are reports Mr Chen's brother and nephew are being held by police.

Bob Fu, an American-based rights campaigner and friend of Mr Chen, says activists offered the dissident safe passage out of China but he refused.

"The only thing he told me was that he wants to fight to the end for freedom and basic rights inside China - for himself, his family and for others. So he chose to stay in China ... he wants to make his voice heard in the international community and to the Chinese leaders."

The case is threatening to overshadow scheduled talks in the coming week involving US Secretary Of State Hillary Clinton and other senior officials.