Chen Guangcheng-the blind human rights activist who mounted a harrowing escape from his Chinese house arrest in April-arrived at Newark Liberty International Airport on Saturday night with his wife and two children.
Cheering crowds greeted the self-educated attorney who had faced imprisonment and beatings for exposing thousands of forced abortions and sterilizations executed under China's notorious one-child policy.
Chinese authorities released Chen and his family nearly three weeks after the activist eluded security guards at his home and arrived at the U.S. Embassy in Beijing. After weeks of tense negotiations, Chinese and American officials agreed that Chen and his immediate family could travel to the United States to study at New York University.
Staying in China had become untenable for Chen: After his escape, Chen's wife said guards tied her to a chair for two days and threatened to beat her to death. Officials eventually allowed her to travel to Beijing for a reunion with her husband, but the family feared that remaining in China would endanger their safety.
Even as they departed from China on Saturday, they expressed similar fears for the extended family they left behind. Bob Fu of ChinaAid, a Christian organization that advocates for Chinese activists and Christians facing persecution, said that officials in Chen's village continued to harass his family: His nephew, brother, and sister-in-law "are all facing possible severe punishment as a result of Chen's escape."
When Chen arrived at the Newark airport, he limped from his injuries but smiled broadly for his supporters. He thanked those who pressed for his release, and told the crowd, "I want to tell everyone that no matter what environment you are in, no matter how difficult it is, we can accomplish anything we really want to achieve. Nothing is impossible if you persist."
For now, Fu said Chen and his family would continue to rest and recover from their years-long ordeal before Chen begins studies in New York. "We are happy for Chen and his family," said Fu. "This is a great day for freedom fighters."
For a full report on Chen's activism, escape, and the ongoing battle for human rights in China, see "Blind justice" in the current issue of WORLD.