The moment she received the e-mail, He Peirong knew that Chen Guangcheng, a blind Chinese human rights activist, had escaped from house arrest.
“The bird has flown out of its cage,” the message said.
He, one of the six people who assisted in Chen’s getaway, told The Asahi Shimbun that the e-mail prompted her and other supporters to pick up Chen and drive him to Beijing.
A former English teacher, He gave her first interview since she was released from police detention on May 4.
The 155-cm tall woman appeared at a park for the interview, wearing sunglasses and a Chinese dress. She asked that her whereabouts be withheld.
He said she received the “caged bird” e-mail on April 21 in Beijing. It was from a friend of Chen’s. She left for Shandong province, where Chen was hiding, in a car the following day.
The six people who helped Chen’s escape played different roles in the drama, such as arranging for the getaway car and making contact with him. He would not disclose their identities to ensure their safety. She said she personally knew about only a couple of them.
He said Chen fled his home in Dongshigu village, part of Linyi city in Shandong province, around 9 p.m. on April 19, three days earlier than previously reported.
“(Chen’s supporters) all answered vaguely not to let details be known to authorities immediately after the escape,” she said.
Chen hid in Shandong province for more than three days until He and others arrived on April 23.
According to what Chen told He and other supporters, the dissident prepared for his flight from house arrest for more than two months.
A key obstacle was a “trap of cups.” A man keeping watch on Chen in his home put cups everywhere so that they would fall to the ground if the blind dissident accidentally touched them in an attempt to escape.
Chen took his time and memorized where the cups were placed. On the day of his escape, he felt his way to an adjacent room while the guard was away for about 10 seconds to drink water. Chen managed to go outside and climbed over the wall.
Chen ran and crawled his way out of Dongshigu village. Once in a different village, he kept asking for help, knocking on the doors of homes. But it was difficult to find someone who would shelter him.
According to Chen’s accounts, residents were surprised to find him standing outside their doors because people in surrounding communities knew that he was under house arrest. They were apparently sympathetic with him, although they were afraid that authorities would catch them harboring Chen.
“Nobody appears to have called police,” He said.
The blind activist fled alone for about 17 hours without eating or drinking, He said.
Chen left Linyi city and finally arrived at a “safe place” where he was given shelter and food. He and other supporters joined him there early on April 23.
“(Chen) appeared full of vigor and drive although he was injured in the leg,” He recalled.
She would not disclose the location of the “safe place” or how he got there. It is believed that Chen’s supporters took care of him and contacted his acquaintances in Beijing.
He and others drove Chen to Beijing. She met Chen again on the night of April 24, but she said, “I was involved only until Chen was taken to Beijing.”
He, from Nanjing, Jiangsu province, recently became a human rights activist. She traveled to Dongshigu village twice last year after learning about Chen over the Internet. But guards prevented her from meeting with Chen on both occasions.
She has since criticized Chen’s house arrest on her blog, saying she wants to “tell the public the truth.”
On April 25, He returned to Nanjing. Two days later, police came to her home and took her out “for a cup of tea.”
Investigators apparently suspected she was the ringleader behind Chen’s escape. They asked in detail how she became involved, contacted other people and moved around.
He stayed at a hotel after she was told she could not return to her home for a while. She said the police were “polite” and never used violence against her.
Police told her not to leave Nanjing for the time being. She was specifically warned against visiting Beijing or Shandong province until new leaders take over at the National Congress of the Communist Party of China in autumn.
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