By Michael Ireland
Senior International Correspondent, ASSIST News Service
WASHINGTON, DC (ANS) -- Following dramatic confusion over his wishes regarding staying in China or seeking asylum in the United States, Chinese human rights lawyer Chen Guangcheng has telephoned a US Congressional hearing to plead for help in his attempts to leave China with his family.
Chen said he feared for the safety of his family and wanted to meet visiting US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton face-to-face, according to a British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) online report.
Chen is still in a Beijing hospital sealed off by Chinese police, following a week spent at the US embassy which he left after initially accepting China's assurances of his safety.
A photo of Chen and his family at the Congressional hearing in Washington
In his call, broadcast live to the Congressional hearing from a mobile phone, he said: "I want to come to the US to rest. I have not had a rest in 10 years.
"I'm concerned most right now with the safety of my mother and brothers. I really want to know what's going on with them."
Chen told the hearing that villagers who had helped him escape were "receiving retribution."
Chen also told Rep Chris Smith, who was chairing the hearing at the Congressional commission on China: "I want to meet with Secretary Clinton. I hope I can get more help from her."
Chen's supporter and friend, Bob Fu of the Midland, Texas-based ChinaAid human rights groups, acted as translator.
Rep Smith told Chen that the activist's friends in the US had expressed "desperate concern" for him.
"We are praying for you and we will be unceasing in our efforts" to help, Smith said.
According to the BBC report, Chen is still in the Beijing hospital with his wife and children, but the building is ringed by police and the BBC's Correspondent Damian Grammaticas, who tried to visit on Thursday, said the activist was effectively under detention.
The BBC correspondent says guards prevented him, as well as lawyers and US diplomats, from entering the hospital to speak with Chen.
Since escaping from severe conditions of house arrest on April 26, Chen has expressed repeated concerns about the safety of his family members in his home village in eastern Shandong province.
Chen earlier told the BBC his wife had relayed to him the extent of the threats there.
"She told me our house has been installed with seven CCTV cameras inside the courtyard. There are people in and outside of our house and on the roof... They just eat and stay in our house, and they plan to build up electric wires around my house," he said.
Although he initially said he wanted to stay in China, Chen told the BBC he had changed his mind because he believed China had reneged on an agreement to guarantee his safety and that if his family, who were threatened with beatings after his daring escape.
The BBC says there is no official confirmation about the nature of any such agreement, but media reports in the US suggest that Chen had been promised safety in a university town elsewhere in China I order to continue his legal studies.
The BBC reports that the US government has said that at no point did Chen ask for asylum, and he was never put under any pressure to leave the embassy.
State department spokesman Mark Toner said there had only been telephone access to Chen on Thursday, adding: "It's our desire to meet with him [on Friday] or in the coming days. But I can't speak to whether we'll have access to him. I just don't know."
The BBC said Chinese officials on Wednesday accused the US of interference in China's domestic affairs and demanded an apology for housing Chen at the US embassy in Beijing.
Chen had been at the embassy for almost a week after escaping from house arrest in his village in Shandong. He had planned his escape from house arrest for months.
In his daring escape on April 27, he scaled the wall the authorities had built around his house, injuring his leg in the process, and was then driven hundreds of miles to Beijing. Chen is believed to still be receiving treatment for his injuries after leaving the US embassy.
ABC News quoted US officials as saying when Chen reached Beijing, an embassy vehicle drove out to meet a car carrying Chen, but the staff realized they were being followed. The two cars met hurriedly in an alleyway and Chen was bundled into the US car and driven back to the embassy.
The BBC goes on to say that several people involved in Chen's escape have been detained or have disappeared in recent days, and that Chen is concerned about their safety and wellbeing.
Chen spent seven years in prison or under house arrest after he exposed human rights abuses, including the way thousands of women were forced to have abortions or be sterilized under China's "one-child-policy."