NEW YORK, (Reuters) – When Chinese activist Chen Guangcheng arrived in the United States in May last year he was given a fellowship at New York University, use of a Greenwich Village apartment, and a pile of gifts from supporters, including smartphones and an iPad.
But at least two of the gadgets presented to Chen as gifts may not have been quite what they seemed: They included software intended to spy on the blind dissident, according to Jerome Cohen, an NYU professor who has been Chen’s mentor, and another source familiar with the episode.
Like nearly everything surrounding Chen these days, the existence of the spyware is in dispute, and only adds to the public recriminations between NYU and Chen’s supporters over events surrounding the end of his fellowship.
Last weekend, Chen accused NYU of bowing to pressure from China by ending the fellowship, and his supporters have suggested that the university is wary of displeasing the Chinese authorities because of its plans for a campus in Shanghai. The allegations are vigorously denied by NYU, which says the fellowship was only ever planned to last a year.
At issue in the latest escalation in the argument are an iPad and at least one of the smartphones that were given to Chen days after he fled China and arrived in Manhattan. The devices were found by NYU technicians to have been loaded with software that made it possible to track the dissident’s movements and communications, according to Cohen and the second source, who was not authorized to speak on the matter.
The episode suggests that from almost the day that he arrived at the university there was an uneasy atmosphere between Chen, his supporters, and NYU.
Among the first visitors in May 2012 to the New York apartment Chen had moved into with his family after a dramatic escape from house arrest in China was Heidi Cai, the wife of activist Bob Fu. She brought an iPad and iPhone as gift