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)