Chen Guangcheng, a self-taught lawyer, represents the best of the growing Chinese human rights community. When this blind man saw the reality of the “population control measures” carried out by Communist China, he took up the cause of the women victimized by the One-Child Policy.
Chen Guangcheng exposed over 150,000 forced abortions in a single Chinese county. His efforts protesting this human rights abuse earned him the honor as one of Time Magazine’s “2006 Top 100 People to Shape Our World”—and a four-year prison sentence from his government.
Jubilee Campaign strongly protested the inhuman conditions of Chen’s imprisonment, which involved torture and denial of basic medical treatment. Finally, late in 2010, Chen was transferred from prison to house arrest, and we hoped for a time that the Chinese government would grant him full liberty.
However, the Chinese Communist Party was not finished tormenting this innocent man. The conditions of his “house arrest” did not materially differ from his prison stay, except that his family shared his detention and torture sessions. His house was literally surrounded by guards who entered the house without notice, stealing valuables and other possessions including the toys of Chen’s five-year-old daughter. On at least one occasion the guards beat Chen and his wife nearly to death, leaving them to recover without medical care.
Then on April 22nd, Chen Guangcheng escaped from his house arrest. This blind man climbed over a ten foot wall, hiked through miles of fields, fell in to a river along the way, and broke his foot during the journey. Nevertheless, he continued on until he reached a prearranged meeting point where a Chinese dissident known as ‘Pearl’ waited to take him to Beijing.
Upon arrival in Beijing, Chen Guangcheng was taken into the U.S. Embassy. The embassy staff showed a commendable measure of courage and quick thinking as they sent embassy cars racing through the streets of Beijing, misdirecting Chinese intelligence and allowing Chen to be brought into the embassy safely.
Unfortunately, once Chen was safely inside the embassy, higher-ranking officials began a series of missteps that greatly damaged the U.S. reputation with the Chinese dissident community and nearly made America complicit in China’s unconscionable treatment of Chen Guangcheng. Desperate to resolve the situation before Hilary Clinton’s trip to China for a series of high-level meetings, State Department officials passed on Chinese threats to Chen regarding his wife and children, pressuring him to leave the protection of the embassy.
Hobbled by the polite manners of Chinese culture and assured that U.S. Embassy Officials would stay with him, Chen agreed to leave the embassy on May 2. But after Chen and his family were taken to a hospital room, the US embassy officials mysteriously vanished and Chinese security prevented Chen or his family from leaving the hospital room even to get food. Fortunately, the guards were not under orders to keep Chen from contacting the outside world and he was able call journalists in the West exposing his current plight.
When the news broke, the State Department claimed both that Chen left the U.S. embassy of his own free will and that they were ignorant of what the Chinese officials meant communicating when they threatened to send Chen’s wife “back to the village.” U.S. Congressman Frank Wolf tactfully called this debacle “naive.” Former Amb. John Bolton was less restrained: “This is an act of diplomatic malpractice” the former U.S. Ambassador to the UN said.
Fortunately, Chen’s friends in the NGO community and the US Congress kept up the pressure on China. In particular, Congressman Chris Smith of New Jersey, who chairs a number of committees and commissions with a human rights focus, held multiple hearings on Chen Guangcheng in the weeks after Chen’s disgraceful exit from the U.S. Embassy.
This continued pressure eventually persuaded the Chinese government to honor its promises and allow Chen Guangcheng to come to the United States. Chen, his wife and their two children flew into Newark, New Jersey on May 19th and are safe for the time being. While Chen’s spirit remains strong his physical body will take some time to recover from the abuse that he has suffered since 2006.
Meanwhile the Chinese government is exacting its revenge on Chen’s family and friends:
“Pearl” was arrested and interrogated for three days. She has been released but remains under heavy surveillance.
Chen Guangcheng’s nephew Chen Kegui was arrested after he and his family were attacked in their home by plainclothes government thugs. The attackers were searching for Chen Guangcheng and entered Chen Kegui’s house with no warrant or explanation. Kegui has been charged with intentional homicide which is a capital offense in China. No one was killed in the incident.
Lawyers Jiang Tianyong and Teng Biao were beaten for attempting to visit Chen in the hospital. Jiang Tianyong appears to have suffered permanent damage to his hearing as a result of the beating.
Finally, the horrors of the One-Child Policy continue. On June 12, 2012 Feng Jianmei was forcibly aborted by Chinese Family Planning Units, and the murdered baby returned to her for disposal.
Chen is free but this campaign is far from over. Along with our friends at Women’s Rights Without Frontiers and ChinaAid we will keep fighting for human rights in China.