(WASHINGTON) -- In a letter written directly to Chinese President Hu Jintao, a bipartisan group of five senators urges the Chinese government to take steps to protect the safety and well-being of Chinese dissident Chen Guangcheng, his family and associates. Guangcheng captured international headlines earlier this month after escaping house arrest and seeking refuge at the U.S. embassy in Beijing.
“We strongly urge your government to take all necessary measures to cease the harassment of Mr. Chen, his relatives and associates,” the letter says, “and to guarantee their safety and security while respecting their right to travel freely within and outside China.”
The letter was penned by Senators Marco Rubio, R-Fla., Jim Inhofe, R-Okla., Jim DeMint, R-S.C., Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, and Bob Menendez, D-N.J.
But, Sen. Marco Rubio, a potential contender to be Romney’s vice president candidate, took the lead, his office says -- a move potentially intended to beef up the junior senator’s foreign policy chops and leadership in the Senate.
Rubio argued earlier this month on Fox News Sunday that the incident shows the administration’s “unwillingness to forcefully assert America’s values.”
“This crisis is a reminder of what we’re dealing with in China, and we hope that there are reformers in that government that are pushing for a more open system, but what we know for a fact we’re dealing with now are people who are paranoid and are control freaks in a totalitarian system,” he said earlier this month.
Earlier Tuesday, Guangcheng called into a congressional hearing Tuesday to tell the American people, “I am not a hero.”
It’s the second time that Chen, who was arrested in 2005 for condemning China’s one child per couple law, has called into a hearing in the past two weeks after he phoned into a Congressional-Executive Commission on China hearing May 3.
“I want to extend my gratitude and thankfulness to all those who care and love my family and myself, and our situation, especially the American people who show their care about the quality of justice as a universal value and I’m very grateful to all of you,” Chen, 41, said on the call Tuesday. “I am not a hero. I’m just doing what my conscience asks me to do. I cannot be silent when facing these evils against women and children.”
After hiding out in the U.S. embassy for a few days, Chen eventually sought medical treatment at Chaoyang Hospital in Beijing after being told that Chinese officials would have killed his wife if he had remained at the embassy.
Chen is still awaiting an exit permit to study in the United States after accepting an invitation from New York University. State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said that visas for Chen and his family have already been approved and the hang-up is apparently in the hands of the Chinese.
Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio