WASHINGTON – Congressional leaders united Wednesday in welcoming dissident Chinese lawyer Chen Guangcheng, whose case sparked a diplomatic crisis between Washington and Beijing this spring.
Republican House Speaker John Boehner led Chen, who is blind, by the arm after a meeting with lawmakers of both parties on Capitol Hill. Boehner paid tribute to the "sacrifices" Chen and his family had made and said the U.S. has the responsibility to hold China to account on human rights.
"We can't remain silent when fundamental human rights are violated, we can't remain silent when religious liberty remains under attack, we cannot remain silent regarding China's reprehensible one-child policy," Boehner told a news conference.
Boehner was flanked by minority Democrat leader Nancy Pelosi, in a rare display of the bipartisanship in a deeply divided Congress.
"I don't often say this, Mr. Speaker, but I do wish to associate myself with your remarks," she said. Pelosi said it was an honor to be in the same room as Chen, describing him as a "manifestation" of the cause for human rights in China.
Chen, 40, moved to the U.S. in May with his wife and two children after a dramatic escape from house arrest in China's Shandong province to the U.S. Embassy in Beijing. He had documented forced abortions and other abuses by local authorities. He is currently studying at New York University School of Law.
Speaking through an interpreter and with six lawmakers huddled around him, Chen complained that three months after promising to investigate the abuses he and his family suffered in China, the Chinese government has yet to contact him and he expressed doubt that any such investigation had even begun.
"If a case as high profile as mine can't be handled properly in accordance with Chinese law and international legal norms, how are we able to believe that China will respect human rights and the rule of law?" said Chen.
He said the human rights situation in China is deteriorating but change is inevitable as increasing numbers of citizens shed their fears and assert their rights.
Speaking in front of an oil painting of George Washington, Chen called for the leadership of the U.S. and other democratic nations to smooth the way for what he called China's "transition."
He said equality, justice and freedom do not have borders, and the forces of history toward development and democracy "are something no one can stay in the way of."
Chen drew attention to the case of his nephew Chen Kegui, who has been charged with attempted homicide after he fought with local officials who stormed into his father's house looking for Chen Guangcheng following his escape in late April. Chen said his nephew had used a kitchen knife to defend himself to avoid being beaten to death.
Chen Kegui's case was among dozens raised by the U.S. government during its annual human rights dialogue with China last week.
China's embassy in Washington did not immediately respond Wednesday to a request for comment on Chen's remarks.