WASHINGTON — Chinese dissident Chen Guangcheng spoke to a congressional hearing Thursday from his Beijing hospital bed — and requested a meeting with Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton.
The surprise call — Chen's voice amplified from a cellphone held to a microphone — was the latest twist in a dramatic week in which his bid for U.S. protection has snared U.S.-China diplomacy and cast an international spotlight on his persecution by Chinese authorities.
Chen expressed fears for his family members, particularly his mother and brothers, and said that people in his home village were now suffering retribution for helping him, since he escaped from house arrest and sought refuge in the U.S. Embassy in Beijing.
The blind activist, who has spent the last seven years in prison or under abusive house detention, left the embassy for hospital Wednesday. He has since said that rather stay in China as originally agreed in negotiations between Chinese and U.S. officials, he wants to come with his family to the U.S.
Chen said that he wanted to come to the United States "for some time of rest." He said he's had none for 10 years.
"I'm really afraid for my other family members' lives," Chen told the hearing, convened to discuss his case and the Obama administration's handling of it.
He said that since his escape, Chinese authorities have installed seven video cameras and even an electric fence at his house. "Now those security officers in my house basically have said, 'We want to see what else Chen Guangcheng can do.'"
Chen's comments were translated to English by a rights activist testifying at the hearing, who arranged the call. Chen spoke for several minutes, in conversation with Rep. Chris Smith, R-N.J., chairman of the Congressional-Executive Commission on China.
According to the interpreter, Bob Fu, of the Texas-based rights group ChinaAid, Chen was speaking from his hospital bed in Beijing, where his uncertain fate has overshadowed an annual high-level U.S.-China dialogue on strategic and economic issues. Clinton is among the top U.S. offiicals attending the talks.
"I want to meet with Secretary Clinton," Chen said, laughing. "I hope I can get more help from her. I also want to thank her face to face."
He spoke with Clinton by phone on Wednesday.
Republican Rep. Frank Wolf, the only other lawmaker who spoke at the hearing, later said that he had relayed Chen's request for a meeting with Clinton to her office, where a staffer said it would be forwarded to her in Beijing.
Chen, a prominent human rights advocate, has run afoul of government officials in his province for exposing forced abortions and sterilizations carried out as part of China's one-child policy.
He concluded his comments by saying: "I want to thank all of you for all you care and all your love."
Both Smith and Wolf, among the most dogged critics in Congress of the communist government in China, called for Chen to be granted asylum in the U.S. "The Obama administration has a moral obligation to protect Chen and his family. To do anything less would be scandalous," Wolf said.