Blind Chinese legal activist Chen Guangcheng's baggage has been checked into a flight bound for the United States, an official at Beijing airport said on Saturday, though there was no visual confirmation that Chen was on board.
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Chinese activist Chen Guangcheng is seen in a wheelchair pushed by a nurse at the Chaoyang hospital in Beijing.
A woman at the United Airlines counter in the Beijing airport told Reuters that Chen Guangcheng's baggage "is already checked in" on a flight heading for Newark in New Jersey.
The plane departed around 5.50 pm (0950 GMT), but there was no visual confirmation that Chen was on it.
Three uniformed police officers and plainclothes officers* followed passengers down the mobile corridor leading to the plane's door. The cabin crew waited for passengers to take their seats before closing the curtain to the front section, where the business class seats were located, a Reuters witness said.**
The development came about three weeks after Chen arrived at the hospital from the U.S. embassy, where he had taken refuge after a dramatic escape from 19 months under house arrest in his home village.
Chen's confinement, his escape and the furore that ensued have made him part of China's dissident folklore: a blind prisoner outfoxing Communist Party controls in an echo of the man who stood down an army tank near Tiananmen Square in 1989.
In 2006, Chen was sentenced to more than four years in jail on charges - vehemently denied by his wife and lawyers - that he whipped up a crowd that disrupted traffic and damaged property.
Chen had led campaigns for farmers and disabled citizens and exposed forced abortions.
He was formally released in 2010 but remained under house arrest in his home village in northeastern Shandong province, which officials turned into a fortress of walls, security cameras and guards in plain clothes who kept Chen isolated.