Chinese Activist Joins Conservative Research Group

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BEIJING -- Chen Guangcheng, the blind legal activist whose headline-grabbing odyssey included an improbable escape from house arrest in China, a mad dash for refuge inside the United States Embassy in Beijing and several rocky months as a visiting scholar at New York University, has found a new job with a conservative research institute in New Jersey.

At a news conference in Washington, Mr. Chen announced Wednesday that he had accepted a three-year fellowship with the Witherspoon Institute in Princeton, N.J., which has taken conservative stands against abortion and same-sex marriage. Although Witherspoon will provide Mr. Chen financial support, he will maintain affiliations with the Catholic University of America and the Lantos Foundation for Human Rights and Justice, a liberal advocacy group named for Representative Tom Lantos, a California Democrat and Hungarian-born Holocaust survivor who died in 2008.

"We will make a concerted effort and move forward to courageously defend the freedom of the Chinese people, human freedom, human dignity and other universal values," Mr. Chen said, according to a copy of his remarks.

The announcement ends several months of speculation over where Mr. Chen would land after a high-profile falling out last spring with N.Y.U., during which he accused the university of forcing him to leave at the behest of the Chinese government. Mr. Chen claimed N.Y.U. administrators were worried that his continued presence would jeopardize plans to open a campus in Shanghai, although he did not offer any evidence to back up his assertions. N.Y.U. officials denied the allegations and said Mr. Chen's visiting scholar position was always meant to last one year.

The controversy had a polarizing impact on his supporters and led a key donor to withdraw the financial support that would have allowed Mr. Chen to take a three-year fellowship at Fordham University.

Last summer, as news emerged that Mr. Chen might accept a position at Witherspoon, some of his friends expressed concern that an association with a stridently conservative organization might diminish his effectiveness as an advocate for human rights in China. Mr. Chen, who is not Christian and has not taken a public stand on abortion, brushed aside such concerns, saying that the institute shared his passion for democracy and free speech.

In an interview, Luis Tellez, Witherspoon's president, said Mr. Chen would have the freedom to do his work unimpeded. "We don't expect him to represent our issues, only to do the important work he does," he said. "He's a person who tells the truth as he sees it, so we don't think there will be any serious conflict."

John Garvey, president of Catholic University, said he expected Mr. Chen to lecture at the Washington campus while working on his autobiography. He said Mr. Chen's opposition to China's coercive family-planning policies and his advocacy on behalf of the disabled dovetailed with the values espoused by the university. "We didn't ask him for a complete inventory of his views, but these are the most prominent ones we want to draw attention to," Mr. Garvey said in an interview. "I'm sure there are things we won't agree on as well."

He said Mr. Chen and his family would relocate to Washington from New York.

A self-taught legal advocate, Mr. Chen, 41, spent more than four years in prison as retribution for challenging a government campaign that led to thousands of forced sterilizations and abortions in China's eastern Shandong Province. In April 2012, he made a dramatic escape from house arrest, and eventually found his way into the United States Embassy in Beijing, prompting a diplomatic standoff that was resolved through negotiations between senior Chinese leaders and Hillary Rodham Clinton, then the secretary of state.

Jerome A. Cohen, a law professor at N.Y.U. who helped shepherd the Chen family through their dizzying first year in the United States, said he was pleased that Mr. Chen would be affiliated with three institutions, but said he was still uncomfortable with his decision to accept a post at Witherspoon.

"It puts him in a more partisan category than I would have felt comfortable with, but my hope is he will continue to be a vibrant voice for human rights in China," Mr. Cohen said. "I wish him well."

world

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.


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