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China pressured U.S. university to ask me to leave, dissident says

Chinese dissident Chen Guangcheng speaks to journalists following an appearance in New York May 3, 2013. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid
Chinese dissident Chen Guangcheng speaks to journalists following an appearance in New York May 3, 2013. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid

By Jonathan Allen

NEW YORK (Reuters) - A Chinese dissident who fled his home country to become a visiting scholar at New York University accused the school on Sunday of asking him to leave because of "unrelenting pressure" from China.

NYU denied the claim, saying that it had said last year before blind dissident Chen Guangcheng arrived that his fellowship would last up to a year and end sometime this summer.

Chen sparked a diplomatic crisis between the United States and China after he fled house arrest last year and sought refuge at the U.S. Embassy in Beijing. NYU helped Chen come to the United States after he expressed fears for his family's safety if they were to remain in China.

In a statement, Chen thanked NYU for its hospitality and "good support," but accused it of giving in to the Communist Party of China.

"In fact, as early as last August and September, the Chinese Communists had already begun to apply great, unrelenting pressure on New York University, so much so that after we had been in the United States just three to four months, NYU was already starting to discuss our departure with us," he wrote.

Chen, who has been blind from childhood and taught himself law, was a campaigner for farmers and disabled citizens. He exposed forced abortions in China before he was placed under house arrest in Shandong province.

He has continued to be critical of China's human rights record since his arrival in New York in May 2012 with his wife and two children.

When asked to respond to Chen's comments, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying told reporters: "I don't know if the situation you just mentioned is based on information that contains mistakes, or if Chen Guangcheng is intentionally fabricating information."

Jerome Cohen, an NYU law professor and friend of Chen who helped broker his departure from China, told Reuters that "we should all base accusations on facts, not speculation and conspiracy theories unsupported by facts", when asked for a response to Chen's remarks.

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Chen said he believed the Chinese government wanted "to make me so busy trying to earn a living that I don't have time for human rights advocacy, but this is not going to happen."

NYU pointed to a PBS television interview in May 2012 with Cohen, who had said Chen would be at NYU for a year at most while he adjusted to a new country.

Chen could not be reached for comment on Sunday.

John Beckman, an NYU spokesman, described Chen's claims as "both false and contradicted by the well-established facts."

"Mr. Chen's fellowship at NYU and its conclusion have had nothing to do with the Chinese government. All fellowships come to an end," Beckman said in a statement.

NYU said Chen had received offers from two other academic institutions. Fordham University Law School in New York said on Friday it was in talks with Chen.

The second offer is from the Witherspoon Institute, based in Princeton, New Jersey, Bob Fu, the president of Texas-based Christian advocacy group ChinaAid, told Reuters. Chen had not yet made a decision, said Fu, whose group has campaigned for Chen.

The Witherspoon Institute is a think-tank that opposes same-sex marriage and abortion.

Beckman said NYU had started talking with the Chens about changes in living arrangements months ago. The school had provided them with services that include housing, food, insurance and healthcare, English lessons and family support, he said.

NYU has been building a campus in Shanghai and received final approval from China's education ministry to begin construction and student recruitment last autumn.

(Additional reporting by Ian Simpson in New York and Sui-Lee Wee and Michael Martina in Beijing; Editing by Eric Walsh and Nick Macfie)

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