WASHINGTON  -- Chen Guangcheng, Chinese dissident and human rights activist, will be a visiting fellow at The Catholic University of America next year working on a book about human rights abuses in rural China.

For the next three years, while at Catholic University's Institute for Policy Research and Catholic Studies in Washington, Chen also will be supported in his studies and human rights advocacy by the Witherspoon Institute, a think tank in Princeton, N.J., and the Lantos Foundation, a human rights organization in Concord, N.H.

At the National Press Club in Washington Oct. 2, Chen told reporters through a translator that he is "at a new starting point" and planned to "make concerted efforts to defend the freedom of the Chinese people and move forward courageously to defend human dignity, and other universal values."

Last April, Chen, a blind, self-trained lawyer, fled house arrest in China, where he had spent several years imprisoned for his legal work dealing with politically sensitive issues such as forced abortions and land seizures.

He initially sought refuge at the U.S. Embassy in Beijing before Chinese officials agreed to let Chen and his family accept an offer from New York University as a visiting scholar.

Chen has said that New York University has forced him to leave because of pressure from the Chinese government but the university has maintained that Chen's one-year fellowship was simply over.

At the Oct. 2 news conference, John Garvey, president of Catholic University, said the university greatly admired Chen's "bravery in defending basic human rights in China" and that his work went along with the "academic mission of a Catholic university."

He also said that Chen "provides a model for the kind of courageous commitment to protecting human dignity and advancing human rights that we hope for in our students."

Matthew Franck, director of the William E. and Carol G. Simon Center on Religion and the Constitution at the Witherspoon Institute, described Chen as "one of the leading voices of freedom and justice in China today" and said he has "proven his courage and fearless devotion to freedom. He is a truth teller. It is our wish that he continue to tell the world the truth" from the platforms provided by the three organizations.

Chen is scheduled to deliver his first lecture as a fellow at Witherspoon later in October.

Richard Swett, treasurer of the Lantos Foundation for Human Rights & Justice, noted that the group of organizations banding together to support Chen's work represents a broad spectrum.

"He will dedicate himself to solving the problems of humanity in general and not by aligning himself with one side or the other," Swett said.