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Wednesday, October 2, 2013 - 4:20pm

Chinese Activist Chen Gets New Start At Catholic University

Human rights activist Chen Guangcheng is expected to stay in the U.S. for the next three years.

The human rights activist fled house arrest in May of last year and sought refuge at the U.S. embassy in Beijing. He then became a fellow at the New York University School of Law, until this summer when Chen said the university gave in to pressure from the Chinese government and kicked him out.

At a press conference today, he announced he would be a visiting fellow at the Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C. and the Witherspoon Institute in Princeton, N.J., as well as an advisor at the Lantos Foundations for Human Rights & Justice.

"Today I'm at a new starting point and I'm very thankful for the support of these three organizations," Chen said. "They jointly set up a human rights platform from which I'm able to speak up about the facts and realities of the Chinese communist authorities' violation of human rights, their indescribable brutality, and the threat they pose to humanity

Jerome Cohen, the NYU law professor who helped bring Chen to the US, says he is happy Chen can look forward to three stable and predictable years. He says the fellowships will give Chen a more secure base to continue speaking out against human rights abuses in China.

"Generally when Chinese dissidents come to the U.S., they're 30-day wonders," Cohen says, pointing to other dissidents like Fang Lizhi, who fled following the Tiananmen Square protests of 1989. "They attract the attention of the press for the first day or two that they're here and then they tend to disappear and only occasionally reappear. With Chen, our whole strategy was to avoid that, to build him up to make him increasingly influential."

In a statement Chen penned when he was asked to leave NYU, he said Chinese communists wanted to disrupt his life in the United States in order to silence him.

Cohen says they started discussing Chen's future a year ago, when they knew Chen's fellowship at NYU would end this June. He pointed out the U.S. needs Chen's help at publicizing the defects in the Chinese criminal system, an example of which is the plight of Chen's nephew.

Cohen says Chen's nephew Chen Kegui was unfairly convicted of a violent crime. He says police and hoodlums invaded Chen Kegui's home in China at midnight and beat up Chen Kegui's parents. When Chen Kegui defended his parents by stabbing their attackers with a knife, he was charged with attempted murder and convicted by "a farce of a trial." Chen Guangcheng recently filed a petition to the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention on behalf of his nephew. Cohen says there's not much hope, but that Chen's work and forthcoming book will continue to shed light on such problems.

"From the day I met him in 2003, I felt this is a man with the potential to become a leader in China," Cohen says.

Chen's fellowship lasts for three years, during which he will be paid, says Stephen Schneck, director of the Institute for Policy Research & Catholic Studies at the Catholic University of America. Chen's work will involve research for his memoir, which is expected this fall.

(Alan Yu is a Kroc Fellow at NPR.)

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