Blind Chinese activist Chen Guangcheng called into a congressional hearing Thursday afternoon and told the hearing that he fears for the safety of his family, wants to meet Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, and then wants to help to leave China.
Chen's call came into the iPhone of friend and fellow activist Bob Fu during the middle of the hearing of the Congressional Executive Commission on China (CECC), chaired by Rep. Chris Smith (R-NJ). Fu and Smith ran out of the hearing room to take the call and returned minutes later to put Chen on speakerphone so that he could address the audience.
"I want to make the request to have my freedom of travel guaranteed," Chen said in Chinese, with Fu translating.
Chen said he wants to come to the United States for a period of rest because he has not had any rest in 10 years.
"I want to meet with Secretary Clinton," Chen said. "I also want to thank her face to face."
Chen's main message was that he needed help to leave China and secure the safety of his immediate and extended family. He said there are security officers all over his home in Shandong, and that local officials had installed seven cameras and an electric fence around his house.
Raising doubts about the credibility of Chinese government pledges, Chen revealed that after he was found missing from his home, his daughter's education was immediately terminated and she was not allowed to go to school anymore. The villagers who helped him are also facing retribution, he said.
"I fear for my family's lives," Chen said. "The thing I'm most concerned about right now is the safety of my mother and my brother and I really want to know what's going on with them."
Smith, who had been trying to reach Chen for days, took the opportunity to tell Chen he had supporters in Washington. He even told Chen that actor Christian Bale, who has tried to visit Chen in the past unsuccessfully, had called him today to express his concern for Chen's situation.
"We are all praying for you and we will be unceasing in our efforts to secure your freedom," Smith said.
Also Thursday afternoon, Mitt Romney weighed in on the Chen case, saying that he feared the Obama administration had communicated a threat from the Chinese government to Chen, sped up the negotiating process ahead of bilateral talks with the Chinese government, and struck a deal with the Chinese authorities they can't enforce.
"The reports are, if they're accurate, that our administration willingly or unwittingly communicating to Chen an implicit threat to his family and also probably sped up or may have sped up the process of his decision to leave the embassy because they wanted to move on to a series of discussions that Mr. Geithner and our Secretary of State are planning on having with China. It's also apparent, according to these reports, if they're accurate, that our embassy failed to put in place the kind of verifiable measures that would have assured the safety of Mr. Chen and his family," said Romney. "If these reports are true, this is dark day for freedom and it's a day of shame for the Obama Administration."
John Hudson reports on national security and foreign policy from the Pentagon to Foggy Bottom, the White House to Embassy Row, for The Cable.