NEAL CONAN, HOST:
Blind Chinese activist Chen Guangcheng called into a U.S. congressional hearing from his hospital room in Beijing yesterday to describe violent attacks on his brother and sister-in-law and what he called trumped up homicide charges against his nephew. Chen testified with the help of his friend, Bob Fu, a Christian pastor and fellow activist who took Chen's call on his cellphone and interpreted Chen's remarks for the congressional committee. Bob Fu fled China himself in the 1990s, relocated to Texas and founded a human rights group called ChinaAid.
If you have questions about the Chen case, give us a call: 800-989-8255. Email us: firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also join the conversation on our website. That's at npr.org, click on TALK OF THE NATION. Bob Fu joins us here in Studio 3A. Welcome to TALK OF THE NATION.
BOB FU: Thank you, Neal, for having me.
CONAN: And Mr. Chen and his immediate family, as I understand it, are safe. When does he expect China to grant him permission to leave for the United States?
FU: I called him this morning, and he said that for the first time the passport issue has substantial progress. This morning, China time, basically security officers from Shandong Province came to him and make him fill the forms for a passport application and obviously asked him to wait within 15 days. He was promised to have his family's passports. The U.S. said their visa have been approved already for a week. So it could, you know, happen in five days to 15 days.
CONAN: Well, that's good news. He's in the hospital. Is he well?
FU: He's in a de facto sort of confinement or detention with his wife. And of course they don't have freedom of movement. Neither of them are - is allowed to be walking out of the hospital, and only his children are allowed to have a few, one hour a day what's called sunshine time. And - but he's able to make phone calls or receive phone calls. So that's major progress. And he and his wife had not suffered any further beatings or tortures like they had experienced in the past 17 months.
CONAN: But that is his immediate family. As he told the congressional committee yesterday, some other members of his family back in Shandong Province are not so lucky.
FU: That's right, Neal. It's really, really deteriorating, actually. You know, his nephew, Chen Kegui, a 20-plus years old, young man, was charged with intentional homicide May the 9th for purely taking up a self-defense measure when he and his father and mother were beaten so severely, I mean, for three hours of beating and - with bleeding, and he had to do self-defense. Otherwise he would have been killed.
CONAN: We - it's hard for us to understand sometimes however many nexuses of power there are in China, yes, there is the Chinese Communist Party. We think of it as a monolith, but provincial officials have huge amounts of freedom, if you want to use that word, to have their own policies.
FU: Well, I think it's more of the united front on this, under the banner of stability. You know, when you come to the so-called social stability, when this self-taught blind lawyer became a so-called unstable element by speaking out against those human rights abuses and massive, you know, abuse of women and children by documenting - I mean he documented over 120,000 cases of the victims of the forced abortion and forced sterilization that triggered the persecution, I think the central government certainly know, at least gave green light for the local or provincial government to deal with this kind of brutality.
CONAN: Well, he made a famous - now famous video that he posted to YouTube, though, which he appealed to the prime minister, saying, you're a reformer. Is this your policy? Are these people going off script and doing this on their own?
FU: That's right. I think that's the so-called human rights defender's or human rights lawyer's mentality. And they think, I mean, they always believe the Chinese have enough good laws. It's just a matter of how to implement these laws. They always think - of course, the central government also, like reformers, wants to build a just society and with social harmony. But it was the locals who abused that and ruined that. And yes, I mean, there are some reformers' inside, but how much have the Chinese premier done in the past eight years as a premier to build - further the reform? I think that question, you know, needs to be answered.
CONAN: Let's see if we'd get some callers in on the conversation. We're speaking with Bob Fu, president and founder of ChinaAid, a Christian human rights organization based in Midland, Texas. He helped his friend Chen Guangcheng testify yesterday before Congress. 800-989-8255. Email us: email@example.com. Crystal(ph) is on the line calling us from Portland.
CRYSTAL: Yes, thank you. Thank you, Neal. Hello, Mr. Fu.
FU: Hi, Crystal.
CRYSTAL: I was wondering if - since you had conversations with Chen Guangcheng and you maybe had similar experiences, if he shared with you how it is he managed to get out of house arrest. And the part I'm most perplexed about is, well, if he went first to the U.S. Embassy, how - what is it that they said to him that got him confident enough to go to the hospital?
CONAN: Well, a couple of different question, we should say. He was being held under house arrest. That's not an official designation in China. There is no such thing, as I understand it. But his house was surrounded by thugs - I think it's probably a good word - and yet he managed to escape alone at night over a wall. Again, he's blind. What do we know?
FU: Yes. It takes extraordinary daring, you know, walking out by a blind man and - actually for 19 hours. And he was basically walking through the small road on the fields because, as you said, there were over - nearly 100 people, 24 hours a day, watching and monitoring his - from bedroom - almost to the bedroom to the - all the major road on the - to the village. And so that's - he told me it's really - God helped him for that escape. And for the - I also contribute to his childhood, you know, practice of climbing the trees and climbing the walls.
And also for blind people, they seem to have a very extraordinary sense of hearing, and they can detect, you know, different people and even river, you know, crossing. But he was wounded, you know, as we all know, and was stumbled for over 200 times and - with the leg, you know, really wounded.
CRYSTAL: And yet he went first to the embassy and not to hospital. So what is it that the U.S. Embassy said that had him confident enough that he wouldn't...
CRYSTAL: ...that he wouldn't be caught again and allow him to go hospital?
FU: You know, there are some, of course, missteps or, you know, something could have been done better by the U.S. negotiators to help, at least keep him better informed. And, for instance, when - before he walked out of the U.S. Embassy, there was a phone call arranged between Chen and his wife, who is under the control of the Chinese security, actually by the Shandong provincial securities. And his wife was - in fact, was eventually a hostage, you know, and his wife could not say anything but to persuade him, walk out of the embassy. And I think the embassy should have at least negotiate a deal with China to invite his wife to come into the embassy to let them, in a safer environment, to make a better decision in the first place. I think...
CONAN: About whether to leave the embassy or not.
FU: Yes, yes, instead of, you know, just to let him walk. Of course, at the time, you know, he was assured with some assurance that he would be safe to study as a normal Chinese citizen. But from the first night, he was not treated as a normal Chinese citizen anymore. And like, you know, we have seen now from May 2nd, they are, you know, eventually moving their house arrest to a hospital. And - but, you know, they're treated much better, of course, than they were in their own homes.
CONAN: Thanks very much for the call, Crystal.
CRYSTAL: Thank you for your work, Mr. Fu.
FU: Thank you, Crystal.
CONAN: And this raises a question. He wanted to stay in China, in no small part, because in China, he could continue to be effective, he hoped, digging up these cases exposing human rights violations.
FU: That's right. I think he has a pure heart. You know, in the beginning, he felt with - a safety guarantee and whether those - a guarantee to hold those abusive officials accountable as he called to the Chinese premier in the video. And I think the Chinese government did make that kind of a commitment to the U.S. officials. But there's not sufficient mechanism to implement this agreement. And, in fact, I think he found himself - yeah, after - right after walking out of the embassy, he lost the safety guarantee.
And, you know, even the first night and, you know, found only himself and his two children are put in a hospital room and lonely and surrounded by guards. And so far, not a single friend is allowed to visit, and some were beaten up just tried to be close to the hospital. And he, himself, could not now have any communication with his other family members either. I think - and his wife, he realized after he walked out, was tied on a chair and for 51 hours. And after Chen was escaped and was threatened with violence and she was basically used as a hostage to make him walk out.
CONAN: We're talking with Bob Fu, founder and president of ChinaAid, a Christian human rights organization based in Midland, Texas, here in Washington, D.C., to work on the case of his friend. You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News. And Hassan(ph) is on the line, Hassan with us from Toledo.
HASSAN: Yes, hello. My question was - if Mr. Chen does - if he is granted asylum, what would he do here? Like, I guess living and job. What would be the course of action for him - I guess, he doesn't speak English. I just don't know how easy the transition would be for him and his family.
CONAN: I understand he's been invited to become an instructor or study at New York University.
FU: Yes. The NYU law school sent him an invitation as a visiting scholar, and he will be offered with scholarship, of course, and with some other, you know, special assistance. And he was invited to the State Department visiting exchange scholar's program in 2003. So he was here in the U.S. for a short while. And, yeah, language, of course, needs to improve.
HASSAN: Right. Very (unintelligible) informed. That my answers my question. Thank you.
CONAN: Thanks very much for the call, Hassan. This is a story that I know you're interested in part because it is your story too.
FU: It is, in a sense. I've returned with my home province. A fellow and my wife and came from the same city as him. And so I, myself, experienced something similar, but not as, you know, as being tortured as, I mean, as he has experienced. But both my wife and I were also imprisoned in 1996 when we were in Beijing and for simply leading a Bible study group at our own home and a secret Bible school in the suburb of Beijing. And we were basically every day ordered to sit straight, with arms also straight and eyes straightforward and for 10 to 15 hours. And if you move a little a bit, you will be beaten up by other prisoners.
And I could imagine, you know, when Chen surrounded, you know, by 100 thugs and government security officers too. And when he - in front of their 6-year-old daughter - and their 80-year-old mother was beaten up in her birthday. And when his wife was beaten up and - with rib, you know, bone was broken. And when he was beaten up and lost consciousness, and that was not allowed even to have medical treatment, what kind of, you know, situation is like that? So I just feel we need to help this guy, you know, as a - whatever way we can.
CONAN: We are anticipating an enormous and important change of the senior leadership in China later this year if things go as planned, if things have not always gone as planned this year. But any case, do you see a real prospect for reform, for real democratic reform?
FU: Well, I'm still cautious-optimistic as a diplomatic language. But I do feel, you know, because the Chinese people are the hope. I think I wouldn't put a lot of hope on the party because the party has become real, just economic and power interest group. I mean, there is no even body in the party leadership, you know, believe in communism anymore.
CONAN: That I know is - I suspect is true. But if that's the case, then all of this progress, all of the prosperity, which is real - yes, there are these terrible human rights problems. No rule of law China. But the prosperity for many, many people is real. But is that built on sand? Is it likely to crumble?
FU: Yes. I mean, the prosperity, on what price? I mean, you have the, really, the rapid downgrading of the environmental situation. All of the seven rivers - major rivers in China are not really drinkable anymore and heavily polluted. And you have the tremendous gender gap because of this one-child policy, you know, 20 millon more men than women. And you have, of course, this - the gap between the rich and poor is huge. I mean, much bigger than the U.S., and only a very small minority control 90 percent of the Chinese wealth. And, of course, you have the other, you know, factors are non-sustainable. Really, this economic model is declared dead. I mean...
CONAN: Now, Bob Fu, thank you so much for coming in today. We thank you for your time.
FU: Thank you, Neal.
CONAN: Now, Bob Fu, the founder and president of ChinaAid, a Christian human rights organization based in Midland, Texas, with us here in Studio 3A. Tomorrow, we'll look at the consequences around the world of a possible default in Greece. Join us for that. I'm Neal Conan. It's the TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright National Public Radio.