AGENCE FRANCE PRESSE
BEIJING: Chen Guangcheng, the blind Chinese lawyer who won global acclaim for uncovering rights abuses under China's "one child" policy, has escaped from house arrest, according to his supporters.
Chen had been held under house arrest since he was released from a four-year jail sentence in September 2010. He has reportedly endured several beatings and is believed to be in poor health.
"He was able to get out of his home on April 22 and his friends were alerted and escorted him to a safer location outside of (his home province of) Shandong," Bob Fu, a US-based activist in close contact with Chen, told AFP.
The claim was confirmed by a China-based supporter of the lawyer.
Fu was unwilling to describe the exact circumstances of Chen's escape for safety reasons, but said he had been in direct communication with the supporters who had escorted him to a safer location.
He added he had been in contact with the US Congress, State Department, and the US embassy in China "to alert them and seek help for Chen Guangcheng and those who help him and are hiding him."
But he could not confirm rumours that Chen was currently at the US embassy in Beijing, saying that while in hiding, Chen had expressed reluctance to leave the country.
"We asked if he was willing to get out of China. He's very reluctant and he said he wants to fight to the end inside China for his citizen's rights. He wants to lead a normal life as a Chinese citizen," Fu said.
Reporters and activists who have tried to visit Chen during his house arrest have been unable to access his home, and some have even been roughed up by the thugs who stand guard at every entrance to his village.