Blind Chinese activist Chen seeking book deal

Chen Guangcheng speaks at the Council on Foreign Relations in New York, Thursday, May 31, 2012. AP Photo

(CBS/AP) NEW YORK - Chinese legal activist Chen Guangcheng is planning to write a book about his life and his quest for human rights in China.

Chen had three goals, his spokesman Matt Dorf said Thursday: to spread his message for greater freedom in China, to help support his family and to raise money to contribute to human rights organizations.

The announcement comes as Chinese authorities removed checkpoints, guard posts and surveillance cameras in his native Dongshigu village where Chen spent nearly two years under house arrest. The surveillance had continued over the last six weeks as Chen sought sanctuary at the U.S. Embassy in Beijing and ultimately went to New York to study.

What's next for Chen Guangcheng?
Chinese Dissident Chen Guangcheng

"He is very much looking forward to telling his story," Dorf, managing partner of the Washington-based Rabinowitz/Dorf Communications, told The Associated Press.

Dorf said Chen had not started the book, which will be translated from Mandarin, but was hoping to meet with publishers "as soon as possible, within weeks, not months."

Chen will be well represented. Washington attorney Robert Barnett, whose clients include President Barack Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, will handle negotiations.

Chen, 40, was imprisoned for seven years by provincial officials until a dramatic escape in April from house arrest in his rural village.

He and his wife were detained without charges in 2005 after he angered local officials by documenting complaints about forced abortions. He was later tried on a charge of obstructing traffic and damaging public property, sent to prison, and then put under extrajudicial house arrest again after his release.

He escaped his guards on April 22, breaking his foot in the effort and sought refuge in the U.S. embassy in Beijing, just before Clinton arrived in China for high-level diplomatic discussions. Chen has said he was unaware at the time that Clinton was coming to China. While directed at Chen, the security restrictions made life uncomfortable for his fellow villagers, who felt liberated with their removal.

"Finally we can sleep at night," said a villager who only gave her family name, Du, because the return to normalcy still felt uncertain. "In the past you could always hear footsteps from patrolmen and car noises at night, and the dogs barked."

So thorough was the cleanup this past weekend that locals said the surveillance cameras trained on Chen home had been removed and the high voltage street lamps dimmed. Two adjoining huts built at the village's entrance to house the guards -- and where outsiders trying to visit Chen had been beaten -- had been torn down. Even the trash they piled up had been taken away.

"It was as if the whole thing evaporated," said Chen's older brother, Chen Guangfu, who lives in the village with several others in the Chen family. "I feel liberated."

The persisting of the security barriers even after Chen's escape had raised questions about whether local authorities seemed intent on punishing other members of the family and the villagers who helped him flee.

Chen said by phone from New York that security measures should have been removed long ago, pointing to a promise that a central government official made to him in May.

"I feel that there is nothing to be happy about," said Chen. "Most importantly, Chen Kegui is still being held in a detention center and his lawyers still cannot see him."

Blinded by fever in infancy, Chen taught himself law and became known for defending the rights of poor farmers and the disabled in the wheat, soybean and peanut farming country of Shandong province. His exposure of forced abortions and sterilizations during an enforcement campaign for the government's one-child policy embarrassed local officials.

Over the nearly seven years since, he was either in prison or under house arrest, and his treatment carried the taint of a vendetta.

Rights lawyer Jiang Tianyong, a friend of Chen Guangcheng, said local authorities likely got rid of the surveillance to destroy evidence ahead of an investigation by the central government. After his escape, Chen said a citizens complaints official told him Beijing would investigate his detention.

"If Beijing wants to go through the motion, it can do so" with the absence of evidence, Jiang said. "But if Beijing wants a real investigation, it can still do so because there are plenty of witnesses."

Calls to the local town police were unanswered, and employees in the government office at Yinan county, which oversees Dongshigu, said they were not clear about the removal of security.

Five people from Dongshigu and a nearby village corroborated the weekend cleanup and said that they were relieved now that the community is free of guards for the first time since 2005.

With the security gone, much remains unsettled in Dongshigu. Chen's nephew is in police custody on charges of attempted murder after he fought with local officials who stormed into his house looking for Chen Guangcheng after his escape. He has been unable to see the lawyers his family wants to represent him.

Instead, the court has appointed two lawyers from the same law firms that defended Chen Guangcheng in his 2006 trial.

Chen Guangfu said the firms did not provide much defense then. "All they said in court was, 'no objection,"' the brother said.

During the 19 months since Chen Guangcheng was released from prison into house arrest, local officials and the people they hired sometimes beat Chen and his wife, roughed up his mother and harassed their young daughter. Some of the hired toughs came from the village or surrounding communities, getting paid 100 yuan, or $16, a day to chase away unwanted visitors and torment the Chen family.

Chen's supporters also welcomed the end of heavy security, seeing it as a possible sign that Beijing is acknowledging the unfairness of local authorities.

"I feel this is a step in the right direction," said He Peirong, an activist who aided Chen's escape by driving him away from the village. "It goes to show the government is not unchangeable but that it can make adjustments."

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