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May 24th, 2012
03:15 PM ET

Tonight on AC360: Blind Chinese activist describes suffering, escape

In his first in-depth TV interview since arriving in the U.S., Chinese human rights activist Chen Guangcheng talks with Anderson Cooper about his new freedom and why he's worried about the fate of his family and friends he left behind.

His relatives' homes have been broken into and they've been beaten by authorities in Shandong Province in eastern China, said Chen.

"We can see their retribution against my family since my escape has continued and been intensified," he told Cooper.

Still, Chen, 40, said he has no regrets about what he's gone through.

He shared what it was like to enjoy freedom.

”I haven't been able to feel the nature for a long time," Chen said. "On that day I had some time to soak in the sun and feel the breeze. i just felt I hadn't been able to do that in so long. I have missed out for too long."

Chen, his wife and their two children arrived in the United States on Saturday. He will take a fellowship at New York University, where he will study law.

Back on April 22, Chen escaped in the dark of night from more than 18 months in lockdown at his house in Shandong. The daring plot played out like a Hollywood movie - a blind man sneaked past sleeping guards, scaled the wall around his house, injured his foot and hid in a pig sty.

Chen had a stern message about the brutality he said he faced in his own home.

"I want to correct one thing here," Chen said. In the future, he continued, "let's not use the word 'house arrest' but instead let's use the term 'illegal detention.' It's hard for me to describe what it was like during that time. But let's just say that my suffering was beyond imagination."

After Chen escaped, one of his supporters drove him to Beijing. He eventually spent six days in the U.S. Embassy and then received treatment for his injuries in a hospital before coming to the United States this past weekend.

But Chen's troubles go back several years. The self-taught legal activist angered Chinese officials with his fight against alleged forced abortions under China's one-child policy. Starting in 2006, Chen spent four years in prison for "damaging property and organizing a mob to disturb traffic."

When he was let out of prison, Chen said that's when he was held under lockdown in his own home.

Don't miss Chen's interview with Cooper tonight on AC360° at 8 and 10pm ET.

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