Chinese Human Rights Activist May Have Fled to U.S. Embassy, But He Won’t Get Asylum

by Julian Ku

China’s famous human rights activist Chen Guangcheng (who even Christian Bale was beat up when he tried to visit) has somehow managed to escape from his two-year house arrest*  and may have made his way to the U.S. Embassy in Beijing.  Chen has released a powerful web video detailing the physical abuse he and his family have suffered during his house arrest and demanding that the Chinese government act.

If Chen truly has made it to the U.S. Embassy, he is hardly home free.  If, for instance, he seeks political asylum, he is out of luck.  I will let either Duncan or Peggy correct me on this if I am wrong, but I believe as a matter of policy, the U.S. does not consider asylum requests at their consulates and embassies.  As a matter of law, the U.S. does not view itself bound by the Refugee Convention to do so.  Of course, Chen may seek “sanctuary” but the U.S. has no obligation to give him such sanctuary and will only do so in exceptional or extraordinary circumstances.  Nor does China have any obligation to allow the U.S. to spirit him out of the country.  (I’ve been the U.S. Embassy in Beijing several times and I am a little surprised that Chen could have gotten past the Chinese guards who surround the place without the assistance of U.S. embassy personnel).

I should add that Chen’s public statements suggest he is NOT seeking asylum and he does not want to leave China (his family is still in house arrest).  But with Secretary Clinton headed to Beijing for a few days, this will no doubt become an issue in the already uncomfortable U.S.-China Strategic Economic Dialogue. And perhaps she can chat with Mr. Chen when she gets a snack at the Embassy kitchen. Mr. Chen may be a houseguest for a while.

*originally, the post read “six year” house arrest, but Mr. Chen was actually in prison for four years prior to his two-year house arrest.

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