The case of Chen Guangcheng, the blind Chinese dissident who captured the world's attention with his escape from house arrest, is seen as a victory for human rights and many have praised the self-taught lawyer who challenged China's one-child policy, calling him a hero who worked for a noble cause.
The Pennsylvania Pastors' Network, a Bible-based group of clergy and church liaisons who describe themselves as a non-partisan organization encouraging "informed Christian thinking about contemporary social issues," said in a statement Monday that Chen's work on behalf of women and unborn children should be honored.
"Chen Guangcheng, who defended Chinese women from the crime of forced abortion, is finally free and for that we ultimately thank our Lord Jesus Christ. Chen is a tremendous human rights leader whose cause is to end China's One Child Policy and forced abortion. Chen and his wife, Yuan Weijing, and their children, have endured treatment that most of us will never know in our lifetimes, but Chen suffered for the cause of the unborn and the lives of the women and families in China," Colin Hanna, president of the network, said in a statement. "For this he is honored and is a living example to those in America, demonstrating how to act on our convictions to the very end."
Chen, 40, fell out of grace with the Chinese government for criticizing its one-child policy, and in particular its alleged practices of forced sterilizations and abortions. For standing up to the government, Chen had been jailed before being placed under house arrest for 19 months. With assistance from other activists, Chen escaped on April 22 and found temporary shelter in the U.S. Embassy in Beijing on May 2.
After extensive high-profile talks between the United States and China, Chen and his wife and children were granted visas to the U.S., where the activist plans to pursue studies at New York University. He and his family arrived in Newark, N.J., this past Saturday.
Congressman Chris Smith, a pro-life New Jersey Republican who has also been active in cases involving religious minorities, greeted Chen when he landed at Newark Liberty International Airport.
"Chen Guangcheng, who defended Chinese women from the crime of forced abortion, is finally free," Smith said. "America welcomes this extraordinary family with open arms."
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It was Christian human rights organization ChinaAid, led by a former Chinese dissident, pastor Bob Fu, that first informed the public that Chen would be arriving in the U.S. to study. The organization played a pivotal role in Chen's escape and sharing his story with the world.
"We are happy for Chen and his family. This is a great day for freedom fighters," Fu said in a statement Saturday, before Chen's flight. "This further proves that constructive dialogues with international pressure can surely produce concrete positive result. We pray for his family's safe journey."
ChinaAid said that the Chen family "deeply appreciate the international community's tireless efforts to gain his freedom, including [the] church's passionate prayers, both the efforts of the U.S. Embassy and the U.S. Congress, who held two timely hearings on his behalf."
Fu and his organization, like other observers, were grateful for Chen's arrival in the United States, but said it "continues to urge vigilance" in light of the dissident's extended family members who remain in China. Chen's relatives face possible severe punishment in retribution for his escape, according to the nonprofit agency.