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U.S. university drops claim Chinese dissident Chen was spied on

Chinese dissident Chen Guangcheng speaks at a news conference at the National Press Club in Washington October 2, 2013. REUTERS/Yuri Gripas
Chinese dissident Chen Guangcheng speaks at a news conference at the National Press Club in Washington October 2, 2013. REUTERS/Yuri Gripas

By Jonathan Allen

NEW YORK (Reuters) - New York University withdrew its claim on Monday that a close supporter of Chen Guangcheng, a Chinese dissident affiliated with the university through this summer, had tried to spy on Chen by giving him an iPad and iPhone loaded with hidden spyware, saying it was a "misunderstanding."

The spyware claims followed Chen's accusation in June that NYU was making him leave the school as a result of pressure from China's government.

NYU said Chen, who arrived at the school in May 2012 after escaping house arrest in China and seeking refuge at the U.S. Embassy in Beijing, was mistaken. It was able to point to prior public statements that Chen's position as a visiting scholar was only intended to last a year. Chen left the university last summer.

A few days after Chen's accusation against NYU, Reuters reported that several of Chen's NYU colleagues believed that Bob Fu, a pastor and a religious-freedom activist who is one of Chen's closest supporters, attempted to spy on Chen. The NYU colleagues said they believed Fu gave Chen an iPad and iPhone that were purposefully loaded with hidden software allowing Fu to secretly track Chen's communications and movements.

Fu denied the charge. The parties in the dispute now say it was all a misunderstanding, according to a joint statement released on Monday by Fu, his Christian activist group ChinaAid, NYU and Jerome Cohen, a law professor who was Chen's mentor at the school.

"Professor Cohen and NYU have confirmed that, contrary to media reports, an iPad and iPhone given to Mr. Chen by China Aid contained no software designed to monitor communications or spy on Mr. Chen," the statement said. "Professor Cohen and NYU regret that media reports may have had any negative impact on Bob Fu, his wife Heidi Cai, or China Aid."

The claims by Cohen and others were made "in good faith" but were based on a "misunderstanding of the technology," the statement said.

Fu and an NYU spokesman declined to elaborate; Cohen could not immediately be reached, and Chen did not respond to a request for comment.

Chen, a blind, self-taught lawyer, exposed forced abortions and sterilizations in his native Shandong Province before his imprisonment by local authorities. In October, he said he had moved on to three new joint affiliations, including one with the Witherspoon Institute, a conservative research group in Princeton, New Jersey, and another with the Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C.

(Editing by Scott Malone and Steve Orlofsky)

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