BEIJING Despite causing a huge diplomatic incident between the world's two largest economies earlier this year, the Chinese official in charge of the hometown of blind legal activist Chen Guangcheng said on Friday that he has no idea who he was.
Chen, one of China's most prominent human rights advocates, slipped away from under the noses of guards and eyes and ears of surveillance equipment around his village home near Linyi in eastern Shandong province in late April.
He then sought refuge at the U.S. embassy in Beijing for six days, embarrassing China and creating an awkward backdrop for U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's visit which happened to fall at the same time.
But asked on the sidelines of a party congress in Beijing about Chen, Linyi's Communist Party boss Zhang Shaojun deadpanned.
"I've never heard (of him)," Zhang told Reuters, before hurrying away into a closed-door meeting.
In May, Chen told Reuters that an unnamed central government official had promised to investigate accusations that local officials engineered his jailing on false charges and subsequent 19 months of extra-judicial house arrest and abuse.
But Zhang, a portly man with thinning hair, said he knew of no such investigation.
"I've never heard of this matter," he said.
Robbed of his sight as a child, the rural-born Chen taught himself law and drew international attention in 2005 after accusing officials of enforcing late-term abortions and sterilizations.
Following intense negotiations between Chinese and U.S. officials, Chen left the embassy and was allowed to apply for a visa to study abroad. He is currently a visiting fellow at the New York University School of Law.
(Reporting by Gabriel Wildau; Editing by Ben Blanchard)