By Jeremy Reynalds
Senior Correspondent for ASSIST News Service
NEW YORK (ANS) -- Referring to news reports that New York University has been pressured by the Chinese government to give him the boot, blind Chinese legal activist Chen Guangcheng said Sunday that China's Communist leadership has infiltrated U.S. academia and is threatening academic freedom and independence.
According to a news release from human rights organization ChinaAid, Chen, who grabbed headlines a year ago when he escaped long-term illegal house arrest in his hometown and took refuge in the U.S. Embassy in Beijing, said in a formal statement released by his lawyers, "The work of the Chinese Communists within academic circles in the United States is far greater than what people imagine."
Chen said that the Chinese government has been pressuring the university since the beginning of the 2012 academic year.
"As early as last August and September, the Chinese Communists had already begun to apply great, unrelenting pressure on New York University, so much so that after we had been in the United States just three to four months, NYU was already starting to discuss our departure with us," ChinaAid reported Chen said in the statement.
The university recently told Chen, his wife and their two children that they must vacate their university housing by the end of June, and if they had not located alternate housing, they would have to move into a hotel.
"Academic independence and academic freedom in the United States are being greatly threatened by a totalitarian regime," ChinaAid reported Chen said.
However, according to a BBC News story, NYU rejected Chen's claim.
NYU spokesman John Beckman said in a statement that Chen's claims were "both false and contradicted by the well-established facts."
Beckman added, "Mr. Chen's fellowship at NYU and its conclusion have had nothing to do with the Chinese government. All fellowships come to an end."
Nonetheless, the news release said Chen expressed gratitude to the university, saying, "I'm very grateful to NYU for its help when my family was in a difficult period."
Thanking NYU law professor Jerome Cohen by name Chen said, "We thank Professor Cohen and other friends for trying their best to help us. This assistance has allowed us to have a smooth transition to the United States."
The BBC said that Cohen, who had helped broker Chen's fellowship at the university, said last week that the arrangement had always been a short-term one to help Chen and his immediate family "get their feet on the ground and transition to a more permanent position."
ChinaAid Founder and President Bob Fu, who has long championed Chen's cause, said in the news release, "American universities are out chasing the China dollar and are very reluctant to work with dissidents who have a strong voice in China."
He added, "It does not always have to be direct pressure from Beijing. There is also self- censorship, particularly if a college president believes their China campus or the future enrollment of Chinese students will be sabotaged."
Fu was dismayed that these American universities are not living up to their reputation among Chinese.
He said, "This is unfortunate, because U.S. institutions that welcome dissidents are seen as havens of religious freedom and free speech, and will be more attractive to Chinese young people who can't experience these freedoms at home."
But, Fu added, "The Communist Party may have political control, but it does not control the hearts and minds of the Chinese people, who sti ll look to the United States as a shining example of freedom, democracy, and the rule of law. Hopefully, Chen's experience with NYU will not dim that view."
ChinaAid Association is an international non-profit Christian human rights organization promoting religious freedom and the rule of law in China.
For more information visit www.Chinaaid.org