State Dept. Says It Is ‘Closely Monitoring’ Activist Chen Guangcheng’s Relatives in Chinese Custody

By Elizabeth Harrington | May 24, 2012 | 8:04 PM EDT

State Department official Michael Posner said the United States is “closely monitoring” the situation of Chinese dissident Chen Guangcheng’s friends and relatives, some of whom are now being held by Communist Chinese authorities, and added that the department will “raise our concerns” with Chinese officials.

On Thursday, during a press conference to unveil the Country Reports on Human Rights Practices of 2011 at the State Department, Assistant Secretary Posner was asked about Chen, who had protested China's one-child-per-couple population policy that is enforced through coercive abortions and sterilizations, and who recently came to the United with his wife and two children to study at New York University.

The activist recently said he fears for the safety of his nephew, Chen Kegui, who is in police custody after he defended himself from local officials who stormed his home and attacked his parents in their search for Chen Guangcheng.

“Let me say first of all about Chen Guangcheng’s family and friends, we are closely monitoring what’s happening with his immediate family, his brother, his nephew, the lawyers who’ve undertaken to represent his nephew, others who assisted him -- we have and will as I’m doing today raise these cases and our concerns with the Chinese government, both publicly and privately,” Posner said.  “We’ll continue to do that.”

“We’ll continue to have contact with Mr. Guangcheng and get his input,” he continued.  “So there—these are things as there are many human rights issues in China that we’re paying attention to.”

Posner also said there has been a “closing of space” for human rights activists in China over the last several years that is concerning to the State Department.

Chen Guangcheng with his son Chen Kerui and wife Yuan Weijing in Shandong province. (AP Photo/ China Aid Association)

Chen faced years of imprisonment and abusive house arrest for protesting China’s one-child population control policy, which utilizes forced abortions and sterilizations.  He escaped from house arrest in his home village in Shandong province on April 22 and several days later sought refuge at the U.S. embassy in Beijing, just before scheduled economic talks between the Chinese government and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner.

Chen stayed at the embassy for six days before leaving under an agreement that U.S. officials said would allow him to live freely in China and be reunited with his family.

Chen told human rights activist Bob Fu that American officials in Beijing had been “very insistent” that he should leave the U.S. Embassy there on May 2.

Hours after he left the embassy for hospital treatment, however, the deal fell apart and Chen voiced fear for his family’s safety and asked that he and his family be allowed to leave China on Secretary Hillary Clinton’s plane.

Chen’s fate was in limbo before a deal was reached on May 4 for him and his family to travel to the United States to pursue his education at New York University.  He and his family arrived on Saturday, May 19.

“In terms of the relationship [with China] we had obviously a dramatic few days -- we were there during the strategic and economic dialogue,” Posner said.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. ( Starr)

“What was striking to me is that we had a very successful meeting while a human rights issue was being played out,” he said.  “I think the relationship is now so important to both countries that we have found a way and we will find a way to talk about our economic, political, strategic interests, and human rights is going to be very much part of those discussions.”

Following Chen’s escape, his brother and sister-in-law were placed under house arrest by Communist authorities, and Guo Yushan, a Chinese academic who helped him when he got to Beijing, was detained and interrogated by police before being released.

His nephew, Chen Kegui, has been unable to have outside contact since his arrest.

Chen’s brother, Chen Guangfu, has since escaped house arrest seeking legal counsel for his son in Beijing.