China: dissident escapes house arrest, releases YouTube statement

Blind human rights activist Chen Guangcheng on April 27 succeeded in escaping from house arrest, under which had been held since September 2010 at his hometown in a rural area of China’s Shandong province. From an unknown location, he issued a YouTube appeal to Premier Wen Jiabao, making three demands: that authorities investigate and punish those responsible for threats and violence against his family; that the security of his family be ensured; and a general crackdown on corruption.

Chen Guangcheng, known as the “barefoot lawyer,” is one of China’s most prominent rights activists. He became blind when young due to illness but taught himself to be a lawyer and has been providing legal help to disabled people, petitioners and others. From 1996 to 1998, he petitioned the central government, forcing his hometown of Dongshigu village to do away with illegal taxation of disabled people. He also successfully sued the Beijing Metro, demanding measures to accommodate visually-impaired riders. Since 2005, he has been campaigning against birth control agencies on rights violations including forced abortions and sterilizations in poor rural areas. He was sentenced to four years and three months in prison in 2006 by a local court for “deliberate destruction of property and disrupting traffic.” He had been under house arrest since release. (Shanghaiist, The Economist, Human Rights in China, April 27)

See our last posts on China and the peasant struggle.

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  1. Chen Guangcheng now an international affair
    AP informs us that Chen Guangcheng’s supporters in the US are saying he has taken refuge in the US embassy in Beijing—days ahead of a visit by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. “Chen is under US protection and high-level talks are currently under way between US and Chinese officials regarding Chen’s status,” said a statement from the ChinaAid Association. US and Chinese authorities are not commenting.

  2. Chen Guangcheng family members disappeared
    Whether or not Chen Guangcheng is in the US embassy, he was apparently not being alarmist in warning that his family was in danger. The Human Rights in China website reports that both his brother and his nephew have been taken away by police who raided their homes—although, despite witnesses, this was denied by police when questioned by lawyers who arrived at the village to make inquires. They were told an arrest warrant had been issued, but that they had fled. This is apparently interpreted to mean that they are being held in a “black jail.”

    Frequent updates appear on the ChinaAid website, which we note is Christian-oriented and probably attracted to Chen Guangcheng’s case because of his work on abortion. But we also note that we have seen no evidence that Chen opposes abortion per se—only coercive abortion and sterilization (practices that are apparently widespread in China’s restive peasant regions, and especially in Tibet). We note that this is an issue that progressives are concerned with in such US allies and client states as Peru, Mexico and the Czech Republic.

    So we’d like to know what Chen Guangcheng’s actual politics are? Does he really lean to the “anti-Communist” right like imprisoned dissident Liu Xiabo? Or (dare we hope?) does he understand that the abuses he protests take place in the West as well?

  3. Chen Guangcheng leaves US embassy
    Well, now it is revealed that he was there, and the US and Beijing seem to have struck a more or less amicable deal for his release. “Mr. Chen will be permitted to study law at a major university in the city of Tianjin, far away from his home village where he had been subject to harassment and intimidation for many years,” according to the NY TImes. But the LA Times now tells us:

    BEIJING — Blind human rights activist Chen Guangcheng left the U.S. Embassy in Beijing on Wednesday of his own volition, U.S. and Chinese officials said, but reports surfaced almost immediately that the dissident was coerced by threats against his family and that he has reiterated his desire to leave China.

    A close friend of Chen, Beijing activist Zeng Jinyan, also said the deal with U.S. officials to keep the dissident in China was forced on him to avoid harm to his family and supporters. Zeng said she was told by Chen’s wife that if her husband didn’t leave the embassy, she and her children would be forced to return to their village, where thugs armed with sticks were waiting to beat them to death.

    So—who are these thugs working for? Are they not under the control of Beijing?

  4. Did US betray Chen Guangcheng?
    Chen Guangcheng seems to be making himself a thorn in the side of both Beijing and Washington. On May 3, just as the two sides thought they had arrived at an amicable solution to his dilemma, he spoke by telephone directly to a Capitol Hill hearing of the Congressional-Executive Commission on China, in which he demanded to speak directly with Hillary Clinton, and expressed his desire to leave China with his family, who he said continued to be in danger. He said he was seeking time in the US to “rest,” away from government harassment, and made no mention of seeking political asylum.

    ChinaAid, in a statement on its website, makes clear that its founder and president Bob Fu organized the telephone link. Fu, in his own prepared remarks to the CECC, raised the prospect that “the Chinese and US governments have struck a shameful deal.” Fu expressed his skepticism that “Chen Guangcheng left the embassy of his own volition.”

    So, in answer to our own question—it looks like maybe the thugs persecuting Chen Guangcheng are under Beijing’s control. But we also wonder if this affair isn’t being manipulated by hardline elements on the Chinese side or the US side (or both) with an interest in exploding the US-China rapprochement…

  5. Chen Guangcheng in Greenwich Village
    Chen Guangcheng arrived May 19 at Newark airport and was whisked away to an apartment in Greenwich Village, from where he will be attending New York University. His immediate family was apparently allowed to come with him to New York. Neither the accounts on AP or China Aid make clear who exactly whisked him away, or set him up with a Greenwich Village apartment—a hotly coveted item even among people from Queens, much less Shandong. Since he will be in our neighborhood (World War 4 Report‘s world headquarters is actually in a rent-stabilized walk-up in Noho, just east of the Village), perhaps we will try to establish contact with him for an interview…

    Can anyone help us out here, or wish to volunteer to do the legwork with NYU for us?

  6. Will Chen Guangcheng be a dissident at NYU?
    Lower Manhattan’s The Villager weekly informs us that NYU’s US-Asia Law Institute will be overseeing Chen Guangcheng’s studies—and that he will be housed in the elite realm of Washington Square Village, an apartment complex generally reserved for NYU faculty. Now, how long will it take for Chen to become aware of NYU’s controversial mega-scale redevelopment scheme for the area—which Washington Square Village residents have overwhelmingly opposed as neighborhood-crushing hubris (as The Villager has also widely reported)? This is an obvious parallel to the land-grabs in the name of mega-development that have sparked much unrest in China in recent years, even if the NYU mega-plan is being executed with greater legality and without (yet!) the attendant human rights abuses. Will Chen make the connection? Will he make common cause with his neighbors against his hosts? We’ll be watching…

  7. Chen Guangcheng on the Times op-ed page
    Newly ensconced at NYU, Chen Guangcheng has an op-ed in the New York Times May 29, entitled “How China Flouts Its Laws.” He writes:

    The fundamental question the Chinese government must face is lawlessness. China does not lack laws, but the rule of law. As a result, those who handled my case were able to openly flout the nation’s laws in many ways for many years.

    Although China’s criminal laws, like those of every country, are in need of constant improvement, if faithfully implemented they could yet offer its citizens significant protection against arbitrary detention, arrest and prosecution. Countless legal officials, lawyers and law professors have labored for decades to produce constitutional and legislative rules intended to prevent a recurrence of the nightmarish anti-rightist campaign and other “mass movements” of the 1950s and the later abominations of the Cultural Revolution of 1966-76.

    But those protections have been frequently ignored in practice, as they were in my case and in the case of my nephew…

    He then goes on to relate the brutal reprisals visited upon his brother after his escape from house arrest. Unlike execrable idiot-left organs that deride Chen as a “counter-revolutionary” (as if this word even has any meaning in contemporary China), we have no reason to either doubt or make excuses for the abuses Chen describes. We will, however, point out a couple of ironies. One is that an antipathy for Mao’s excesses is something that Chen shares with China’s current (counter-revolutionary) rulers—although even he will not be so indiscrete as to actually sully the name of the Great Helmsman! More to the point—Chen’s editorial comes just as the US has actually encoded into law provisions for indefinite detention without charge, in the new National Defense Authorization Act. Is Chen aware of this uneasy contradiction in the apparent politics of his case? He closes his op-ed by invoking a Chinese proverb, “If one is not righteous oneself, how can one rectify others?” The question is aimed at the Beijing bosses he just fled, but it applies just as well to his American hosts…

  8. UN condemns China ‘retaliation’ against activist’s relative
    The UN Special Rapporteur on human rights defenders on Dec. 7  urged China to end retaliatory efforts against Chen Guangcheng by immediately releasing the activist’s nephew. According to the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), Chen’s nephew, Chen Kegui, was arrested when local officials raided his family’s home without a warrant, just after Chen Guangcheng himself escaped house arrest, fled to the US Embassy in Beijing, and was allowed to travel to the US to pursue an education at New York University. Chen Kegui has since been sentenced to three years and three months in prison for injuring an officer during the raid and has been subjected to months of detention without communications.

    The UN expert, Margaret Sekaggya, strongly condemned Chen Kegui’s treatment and demanded that the Chinese government work to ensure that the fundamental human rights of activists and their families are not violated as a result of their peaceful activities. In particular, Sekaggya stressed her discontent with Chen Kegui’s lack of legal representation at his trial on Nov. 30 and noted that the legal proceeding in no way appeared equal between the prosecution and defense. The Special Rapporteur ended her plea by calling on China to promptly investigate all acts perpetrated against human rights defenders and their families, and to prosecute those responsible.

    Chen Guangcheng, an outspoken activist known as China’s “barefoot lawyer,” was originally wanted in his rural town for exposing forced abortions and other human rights abuses. In May he urged the US Council on Foreign Relations to “try harder” to promote the rule of law in China.

    From Jurist, Dec. 9. Used with permission.

  9. NYU sells out Chen Guangcheng —and the US left?
    The New York Times on June 16 reported Chen Guangcheng’s accusations that NYU is buckling under to pressure from China in ending his residency program. We’d love to see Chen’s defenders make common cause with those opposing NYU’s neighborhood-crushing development plan. But the Times reported last July that the only dissenting vote in the City Council’s approval of the plan was Charles Barron—who is a cheerleader for Robert Mugabe, providing much propaganda fodder for the Jewish press, e.g. The Tablet last June. And Mugabe is cozying up to China in the new Scramble for Africa. The same old game, eh? We note with chagrin that prominent commentators on the American left have only tried to use Chen as a bargaining chip against Julian Assange…