Taiwan group invites Chinese dissident Hu Jia to visit

TAIPEI (AFP) - A Taiwanese rights group said on Thursday that it has invited high-profile Chinese dissident Hu Jia to come to Taiwan to meet exiled blind Chinese activist Chen Guangcheng, who is due to visit the island soon.

Mr Chen is expected to arrive in Taipei on Sunday for a 20-day visit organised by the Taiwan Association for China Human Rights, which has also extended an invitation to Hu, said its chairman Yang Sen Hong.

"Chen said he'd be really happy to meet Hu who is an old friend of his family. We also hope that those who can't see each other in China can come to Taiwan to meet," he said.

"We will be willing to arrange if any open-minded Chinese officials want to meet human rights advocates in Taiwan. We believe this would help promote democracy and liberty in China."

Mr Chen, the blind lawyer and activist, is scheduled to deliver a speech in Taiwan's parliament on Tuesday and meet human rights and judicial reform groups during his stay on the island.

He will also visit a human rights park outside Taipei accompanied by former vice-president Annette Lu as well as meeting opposition Democratic Progressive Party leader Su Tseng Chang, the association said.

Mr Chen, who is blind since childhood, angered authorities in eastern Shandong province by exposing abuses in the one-child policy. He was sentenced to four years in prison and later put under house arrest, where he said he and his wife were beaten for speaking out.

The 41-year-old has been living in New York since May last year after a dramatic escape from house arrest to the US embassy in Beijing, which triggered a brief crisis between the two nations.

But Mr Chen on Monday accused Beijing of waging an "unrelenting" campaign against academic freedom and alleged that this had led New York University to end his studies. The university has denied his charges.

Mr Yang, of the Taiwan rights group, said at least one Taiwanese university has expressed interests in inviting Mr Chen to come to the island as a visiting scholar.