The State Department said Tuesday that documents to allow Chinese dissident Chen Guangcheng to come to the U.S. had been completed, and Chen himself talked to lawmakers on Capitol Hill from his hospital room to describe the brutal treatment of his relatives by Chinese authorities.
Chen’s case has become a rallying cry for human rights activists, critics of China’s one-child policy and Republicans who say the Obama administration hasn’t been assertive enough with its principal economic rival.
Rep. Christopher Smith, R-N.J., led a hearing of a House of Representatives Foreign Affairs subcommittee, the second this month, to highlight the case and criticize the White House response.
Smith and other lawmakers are unhappy with the slow pace of efforts to permit Chen and his wife and children come to the United States, a quest that began more than two weeks ago after the activist escaped from extralegal home detention and took temporary refuge at the U.S. Embassy in Beijing. Since then, Chen and his family have been under what Smith called “de facto arrest” at a Beijing hospital, waiting for U.S. and Chinese authorities to allow him to travel to the United States to study at New York University.
“The story, unfortunately, is far from over,” Smith said.
State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said Tuesday that the visa application process was complete for Chen, his wife and children, and that everything now depended on Beijing.
“All of the processing on the U.S. side has been completed,” she said. “We are ready when he and his government are ready.”
She added that Chen is continuing to work with his government.
In the meantime, Chen and his supporters have said that his family and friends have been subject to harsh treatment by Chinese authorities and that his wife and children were suffering from malnutrition.
“When I saw them, I felt very saddened,” Chen said Tuesday through a translator.
Chen described to Smith and other lawmakers and human rights activists how government “thugs” had gone to the home of his elder brother and beat him and his sister-in-law. Then they returned and started beating his nephew.
“What happened to my family is a violation of Chinese law,” Chen said.
The authorities took away Chen’s nephew, too, and charged him with “intentional homicide.” Chen called it a “trumped-up charge” that resulted from his nephew attempting to defend himself. Chen said the treatment his relatives had received was consistent with his own experience after his arrest in 2005.
“This is a pattern of raids,” Chen said. “It’s not the first time.”
Chen also said that none of his relatives was permitted to see a lawyer, something that also had happened to him. But for all the cost to his family and him, Chen said he had to be the voice of political prisoners all over the word.
“What I’ve done is honor my conscience and conviction,” he said. “I cannot be silent when we face these kinds of evils.”
The activists in the hearing room praised Chen.
Chai Ling, the founder of All Girls Allowed, an organization that opposes China’s one-child policy, compared Chen’s situation to that of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. when he was jailed in Birmingham, Ala., during the civil rights era, and to President Ronald Reagan when he asked then-Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev to tear down the Berlin Wall.
Pastor Bob Fu, a human rights activist who was part of the Chinese student democracy movement in 1989, pressed lawmakers to monitor the administration.
He criticized the Obama administration’s handling of the matter and said U.S. officials should “make every effort” and “lose some sleep” until it’s resolved.
Fu said he was “looking forward to the day when Chen, his wife and children can touch American soil.”
Ling asked the Obama administration to keep working for Chen’s freedom.
“You are in a position to act,” she said. “I urge you to compel China to honor its word.”
State Department officials didn’t testify at Tuesday’s hearing, but a committee spokesman said he expected that they would at a future date.
Lesley Clark contributed to this report.