Chen Guangcheng, the blind Chinese activist whose dramatic escape from house arrest last year provoked a diplomatic firestorm between Washington and Beijing, said he is being forced to leave New York University over fears his presence there is affecting the university's relationship with China.
In a statement released Monday, Chen said that New York University had asked him and his family to leave before the end of June.
"In fact, as early as last August and September, the Chinese Communists had already begun to apply great, unrelenting pressure on New York University," Chen said. "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."
Chen claimed in the statement that NYU was bowing to pressure from China. According to the New York Post, which first raised the allegations, NYU is currently working closely with China to establish a Shanghai campus.
"The work of the Chinese Communists within academic circles in the United States is far greater than what people imagine, and some scholars have no option but to hold themselves back," Chen said in the statement. "Academic independence and academic freedom in the United States are being greatly threatened by a totalitarian regime."
NYU, meanwhile, issued its own statement denying Chen's allegations.
"From the beginning, NYU was happy to welcome Mr Chen and his family to the US and to help them embrace the beginning of their new life," said the school's spokesman John Beckman. "We are very discouraged to learn of Mr. Chen's statement, which contains a number of speculations about the role of the Chinese government in NYU's decision-making that are both false and contradicted by the well-established facts."
According to the university, Chen's fellowship had only ever been designed as a one-year assignment.
"Mr. Chen's fellowship at NYU and its conclusion have had nothing to do with the Chinese government. All fellowships come to an end. Even before his arrival, Mr. Chen's fellowship was discussed as a one-year experience," Beckman said.
"Mr. Chen now has two extremely attractive offers for his next institutional affiliation. We began talking with the Chens about the coming transition in their living arrangements months ago, not because of some fictional 'pressure' from China, but so that they could use the months to make their transition a smooth one. It is disappointing to us that that period was not used more wisely."
He said the university was "puzzled and saddened" by the allegations but would continue to work with the Chens to help them with their transition.
Chen Guangcheng -- an activist and a self-taught 'barefoot lawyer' - gained international recognition in 2005 when he organized a landmark class-action lawsuit against authorities in Linyi, Shandong province, for excessive enforcement of China's one-child policy, including allegations of forced abortions and sterilizations.
He was placed under house arrest in September 2005 and in 2006 was sentenced to four years and three months jail for "damaging property and organizing a mob to disturb traffic."
Even though he was released in 2010, he remained under house arrest until his dramatic escape in April 2012 when he scaled the wall of his house, penetrated the security cordon around his house and managed to flee to the U.S. Embassy in Beijing.
While Chen and his immediate family secured visas to the U.S., his remaining relatives in China say until recently they have been subject to continued harassment by Chinese authorities.
Chen's brother, Chen Guangfu, told CNN this month that authorities had only just issued he and his mother passports after previous applications had been rejected. He said continued pressure from his brother to publicize their treatment had helped to stop the harassment.
"The authorities were trying to intimidate us but their tactics backfired when the incidents received worldwide attention," Chen Guangfu told CNN.
He added that while he and his mother had no immediate plans to visit Guangcheng in the United States, they wanted to make the trip "sooner rather than later" because of their mother's advanced age.
Asked whether NYU was responding to pressure from China, Hua Chunying, a Chinese foreign ministry spokeswoman said the ministry was not aware of anything unusual in Chen's situation.
"As far as I know, Chen Guangcheng went to study abroad as an ordinary Chinese citizen after completing formalities in accordance with law. I'm not aware of (the situation you mentioned) -- I'm not sure if you got wrong information or Chen Guangcheng is fabricating stories."