It was a Chinese-American pastor who served as the direct line of communication between blind Chinese activist Chen Guangcheng and U.S. officials in Congress when it was announced that forced-abortion whistleblower wanted to leave China to study abroad in the U.S.
"I want to make the request to have my freedom of travel guaranteed," Chen was heard saying on a speakerphone last week in front of a U.S. congressional hearing as Pastor Bob Fu translated the activist's words from Chinese to English. Fu, a pastor, is founder of the Texas-based religious and human rights group ChinaAid Association.
Chen, who had escaped house arrest in a village in Shandong province before making his way to the Chinese capital last week to seek refuge in the U.S. Embassy, was reported to have left the embassy on his own free will, according to Chinese state media.
Fu, however, who has previously also been put under house arrest in China for leading an underground church before gaining citizenship in the U.S., issued a statement shortly after Chen left the embassy, saying that "relevant reports show unfortunately the U.S. side 'has abandoned Mr Chen,'" Reuters reported. Fu had campaigned for years on behalf of Chen and other Chinese dissidents he believes have been unfairly arrested, and contradicted U.S. reports on Wednesday that claimed he had not been threatened by Chinese authorities to leave the embassy and did so on his free will.
During last week's congressional hearing, Rep. Christopher H. Smith was the first to announce that Fu was on the phone with Chen, and was the official who had invited Fu to the hearing in the first place.
Fu's organization has helped persecuted Chinese citizens escape the country, but for security reasons could not share who they are, the LA Times reported.
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"As long as I have known Bob, he has had a network in China that is very surprising," added Deborah Fikes, Dallas-based executive adviser to the World Evangelical Alliance.
"I've spent a lot of time with him and he is constantly getting calls from people saying, 'We've heard about you and what you're doing,' and they tell him their stories," she added.
U.S.-China relations remain a question as Chen's case continues to develop, with latest reports revealing that the U.S. has offered the activist a route out of his country by inviting him to travel to America to study.
Chen has been targeted by authorities in China for his role in highlighting the way officials enforce the government's one-child policy -- by allegedly performing forced abortions and sterilizations. When the blind activist informed the Western media of the issue, he reportedly faced persecution in China and found himself under house arrest.