CHEN GUANGCHEN AND THE DIPLOMATIC ROW HE SET OFF WHEN HE FLED HOUSE ARREST

CHEN GUANGCHEN


Free Chen Guangcheng
Chen Guangcheng is one of the leading advocated for peasant rights. Blind and known in legal circles as a “barefoot lawyer,” he led a campaign to stop authorities in the city of Linya in Shandong Province from giving forced abortions and sterilizations to peasant to meet population control quotas. In 2006, after serving 10 months under house arrest he was given a prison sentence of four years and three months on charge of destroying property and disrupted traffic “charges linked to his uncovering of forced sterilizations and abortions in the eastern Chinese city of Linyi. Chen’s lawyers and supporters have been harassed His wife was detained at Beijing Airport as she prepared to fly to the Philippines to accept an award on behalf of her husband.

The authorities once celebrated the 39-year-old self-taught lawyer as a symbol of the country’s efforts to build a legal system, but turned against him when he used it to protest government abuse. Guangcheng had uncovered more than 7,000 cases in which women were illegally forced to terminate their pregnancies. In some cases they underwent abortions only days before they were expected to give birth. Some of those that refused to undergo the procedure were beaten until the agreed. The officials that ordered the program feared they would be passed over for promotion if they failed to meet one-child population goals. Once Chen was abducted from the streets of Beijing by Linyi officials when he tried to expose their illegal use of forced abortions and sterilisations to meet family planning goals.

Chen was released from prison in September 2010 but since then has been silenced and is under strict house arrest in rural Shandong Province since them. He has been confined to his rural village and given on limited access to communication. A secret video released in February 2011 shows the conditions in which Chen lives (minders peering behind cornstalks. In the video Chen described blocks on cell phone calls and intimidation of neighbors and friends. “I have come out of a small jail and walked into a bigger jail,” he said. Afterwards, Human Rights defenders reported, he and his wife were beaten by police and prevented from going to the hospital. [Source: AP]

Chen Guangchen’s Life of Activism

Chen was blinded by fever in infancy but according to the Washington Post his abilities to learn are extraordinary. He did not begin elementary school until the age of 17. “That he knows all he knows about China and its laws is quite amazing,” NYU law professor Jerome Cohen told the Washington Post. “And he is already grasping eagerly for the American equivalent.” Cohen is overseeing Chen’s law education in the United States.

Andrew Jacobs wrote in the New York Times: “He was once toasted by the state media for his advocacy of the disabled and the disenfranchised. His wife, Yuan Weijing, would read aloud to him legal documents and help with court filings. But in 2005, he ran into trouble with the authorities by organizing a class-action lawsuit on behalf of thousands of women in Shandong who had been subjected to forced abortions and sterilizations. A year later, a court sent him to prison for more than four years on charges that were widely seen as spurious. [Source: Andrew Jacobs, New York Times, May 19, 2012]

According to Reuters Chen was a leading figure in China's "rights defense" movement, which has sought to use litigation and publicity to expand citizens' rights and freedoms. Although Chen is more popular than most other dissidents, tight media controls have ensured that few in China know of him. China has blocked search results of Chen's name on Sina Weibo, a popular microblogging platform, and censors rapidly delete any references to him in postings. The blogger He Peirong helped publicize Chen’s case among ordinary Chinese and encourage them to go to Dongshigu village and break the security cordon. [Source: Reuters]

Chen’s Guangcheng’s House Arrest


Free Chen Guangcheng part 3
The New York Times reported: Although technically a free man after his release in September 2010, Mr. Chen encountered a new round of restrictions. Local officials, with the backing of provincial authorities, turned his home into a makeshift prison, with surveillance cameras, hired thugs and cellphone jamming equipment ensuring he was cut off from the outside world. The cordon also kept out visitors, including the journalists, diplomats and freelance Chinese activist who were violently repelled when they tried to enter the village. [Ibid]

Barbara Demick wrote in the Los Angeles Times: “Chen's windows were covered with metal shutters and the perimeter cordoned off with an electric fence. Floodlights illuminated the house by night. Authorities put seven surveillance cameras at the entrance to the village and around the house and installed cellphone-jamming equipment to prevent Chen from having any contact with outsiders. Only Chen's mother was permitted in and out of the house to buy food. [Source: Barbara Demick, Los Angeles Times, May 28, 2012]

“Not only was the security stifling; it was brutal. Chen's wife was once tied to a chair for two days. When the couple made a video showing a guard peering over cornstalks around their house, the guards took revenge by wrapping Chen's wife in a quilt and kicking her, breaking a rib. Lawyers and activists who tried to visit Chen were beaten and robbed. Villager Sun said: "I used to see how hard they'd beat people, with their fists, with their boots. It made me so angry.” [Ibid]

“The efforts to isolate Chen became increasingly counterproductive as his fame grew around the world. The six-hour drive from Beijing to tiny Dongshigu became a kind of pilgrimage for human rights activists, legislators, journalists. "Batman" star Christian Bale tried to visit in December and scuffled with the same thugs. [Ibid]

Chen Guangcheng and His Wife Beaten and Tortured by Thuggish Minders

. Since his release, he has been under “ruanjin,” or “soft detention,” a kind of house arrest increasingly being used by the authorities to silence people who have not violated the law. In June 2011, the U.S.-based group ChinaAid released a letter by Yuan Weijing, the wife of Chen Guangcheng, describing the beatings and confiscation of personal property the couple suffered during months of forced confinement in their rural village. Contents of the letter were confirmed by a friend of the family, He Peirong. Ms. He, who describes herself as a Nanjing-based Internet activist. [Source: Ian Johnson and Jonathan Ansfield, New York Times June 17, 2011]

According to Ms. He’s account and the undated letter, Ms. Yuan said that in February and March of this year, Communist Party officials from Shuanghou, a suburb of Linyi, stormed the couple’s homes. Ms. Yuan said she was bundled into a blanket and repeatedly kicked so hard that she still cannot stand straight. She said she saw her husband being tortured by the men, who twisted his arms and neck until he passed out. The couple was denied medical aid, she said, except for one intravenous drip from a village doctor. They had to stay in bed because of their injuries, she said.

The men came back repeatedly, according to Ms. Yuan’s letter, and confiscated legal documents related to Mr. Chen’s case as well as a computer, video camera, audio recorder, flashlight and television antenna. Metal sheets were fixed over the windows and the power was cut off. Telephone lines had already been cut. Still later, she said, men took away all their books, pictures of their daughter and calendars off the wall. The authorities installed video cameras to monitor the couple. The house arrest extends to the couple’s 5-year-old daughter, Ms. Yuan wrote, and Mr. Chen’s mother.

Christian Bale Tries to Meet Chen Guangcheng

In December 2011, CNN reported: Christian Bale scuffled with guards as he was denied a chance to meet Chen Guangcheng, a blind Chinese lawyer and civil rights activist who has been under house arrest in China for over a year. Bale, who stars in the Chinese film "The Flowers of War," went on an eight-hour drive with a CNN crew to visit Chen in the city of Linyi, where he's been held in his own home since September 2010. When Bale approached Chen's house, he was met by an escalating number of guards as he protested being prevented from entering Chen's house. Punches were thrown and shoving ensued as Bale, along with the CNN camera crew, tried to push his way through to the house. [Source: CNN, Huffington Post, December 16, 2011]

"I'm not being brave doing this. The local people who are standing up to the authorities and insisting on going to visit Chen and his family and getting beaten up for it and my understanding is getting detained for it---I want to support what they're doing," Bale told the CNN crew.

The Chinese government partially funded the production of "The Flowers of War," in which Bale stars as an American who finds himself in the middle of the infamous Rape of Nanking, a mass murder and rape spree carried out by Japanese soldiers in 1937. Bale was in China to promote the film,

"He's been following the story and he was just really moved by the story and what this man's trying to do and it's impossible [to see him]," Bale's representative told The Huffington Post, "and he thought, he was there for work, and he would try and see if he could help. [It was] just really being moved on a personal level and that is what he chose to do."

After Christian Bale tried to meet with Chen Guangchenhe Chinese Communist Party sent Bale a pointed message: You will not work in this town again. "If he wants to create news, I don't think that would be welcome in China," Foreign Ministry spokesman Liu Weimin said of Bale, who had been in Beijing for the opening of his film "The Flowers of War." [Source: Barbara Demick, Los Angeles Times, February 16, 2012]

People who know Bale, who has been more involved in environmental than political issues, believe he was trying to counter the perception that he had been co-opted by the Chinese government by appearing in "The Flowers of War." A spokeswoman for the film said Bale would not comment, and his publicists did not return telephone calls. The film, directed by Zhang Yimou, one of the government's favorite directors, has been criticized as an overly propagandistic depiction of the Japanese occupation of Nanjing in 1937.


Chen Guangcheng

Chen Guangchen Flees House Arrest

In late April 2012, AP reported, “Chen Guangcheng fled house arrest in his rural China village and made it to a secret location in Beijing, setting off a frantic police search for him and those who helped him, activists said. Activists described an improbable escape, saying Chen slipped away from his intensely guarded home was driven away by activists and then transferred to others who brought him to Beijing. Chen also recorded a video as a direct address to Premier Wen Jiabao, condemning the treatment of him and his family and accusing local Communist Party officials by name. Activists sent the video to the overseas Chinese news site Boxun.com, which posted part of it on YouTube. [Source: AP, April 27, 2012]

“During his daring escape Chen scaled walls, broke his foot in a fall, scrambled across farm fields, and evaded the dozens of guards who were charged with keeping him and his family locked up in their Shandong Province farmhouse. "I am now free. But my worries have not ended yet," Chen said in his video. Speaking to a camera in a room with an off-white curtain drawn behind him, he said, "My escape might ignite a violent revenge against my family." In the video, Chen called on the premier, seen by many Chinese as a reformer, to punish those responsible."Including party leaders, police and other civilians, around 90 to 100 people have been involved in the persecution of my family. I hereby request to you, Premier Wen, to start an investigation into this case," Chen said. [Source: Barbara Demick, Los Angeles Times, May 28, 2012]

“On how Chen escaped, Barbara Demick wrote in the Los Angeles Times: “Throughout the month of April, Chen pretended to be bed-ridden so that his captors would let down their guard. On the night of April 20, Chen climbed over his courtyard wall and hid in a neighbor's pigpen. Accustomed to navigating without sight, compensating with his keen hearing, Chen waited until the guards were asleep and crossed the shallow river into Xishigu village. He was taken to the home of a villager whose daughter he'd helped in a dispute with family planning, and that villager in turn contacted his older brother, Chen Guangfu. He contacted an activist in Beijing, who got a car and sneaked Chen Guangcheng out of Xishigu. [Source: AP, April 27, 2012]

“The blogger He Peirong “who helped publicize Chen’s case among ordinary Chinese and encourage them to go to Dongshigu village and break the security cordon” told the Associated Press that she had driven Chen from Dongshigu village out of Shandong province to "a relatively safe place." She handed him to another activist, who called Bob Fu, a Texas-based activist who runs the China Aid Association, to say that he was about to be arrested but that Chen already was safe. [Ibid]

“In Dongshigu, where authorities have posted surveillance cameras and checkpoints since Chen's release in 2010, local officials swarmed his brother's home, activists said, detaining the brother and his son after a violent scuffle. The county government, however, said the nephew remained at large and is wanted for assault. Zhang Jian, chief of the town that oversees Dongshigu, led local officials to scale the wall surrounding a house belonging to the activists' relatives and his nephew, Chen Kegui, confronted them with a long vegetable knife, according to Cao and He. Chen Kegui wounded Zhang and other officials, their accounts said. Chen and his father were detained by paramilitary police with electric batons while troops surrounded the family compound, Fu said. [Ibid]

Chen Guangcheng Seeks Refuge in U.S. Embassy

Three days after his escape Chen sought refuge in the American Embassy in Beijing and stayed there fir six days while American and Chinese officials negotiated his fate. Jane Perlez wrote in the New York Times, “Mr. Chen entered the American Embassy ...with the assistance of American officials because of the “exceptional circumstances, including his disabilities,” a senior American official said. “On humanitarian grounds we assisted him and allowed him to remain on a temporary basis,” the official said. Mr Chen... suffered an injury to his foot during his escape from his house in Shandong province last week and was walking with the help of a crutch, the official said. [Source: Jane Perlez, New York Times, May 2, 2012; Andrew Jacobs, New York Times, May 19, 2012]

“His entry into the embassy, the New York Times reported, infuriated Chinese leaders, who accused Washington of meddling in its domestic affairs. The diplomatic crisis was compounded by a deadline: the imminent arrival of Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and other top officials for previously scheduled talks in the capital. [Ibid]

“The last Chinese dissident to take refuge in an American diplomatic compound was Fang Lizhi, an astrophysicist, who walked into the embassy in Beijing with his wife in 1989, the day after the People’s Liberation Army crushed pro-democracy protests in Tiananmen Square. He spent a year in the diplomatic compound before Chinese officials agreed to let him leave for the United States in 1990. [Ibid]

“During 30 hours of tense negotiations between American and Chinese officials, Mr. Chen rejected the idea of asylum and insisted that he wanted to stay in China---as long as he and his family could be shielded from further persecution. Exile, he feared, might silence his voice as an advocate for legal reform in China. [Source: Jane Perlez, New York Times, May 2, 2012; Andrew Jacobs, New York Times, May 19, 2012]

“Steven Lee Myers and Mark Landler, New York Times, U.S. officials knew nothing of Chen’s preparations to escape from his farmhouse on the night of April 22. They learned of it only when He Peirong, a rights advocate, called the embassy three days later and told officials there that he was in hiding on the outskirts of Beijing, his foot broken from a fall during the escape. After a late-night meeting at the State Department on April 25, Mrs. Clinton approved a plan to spirit him into the embassy, an operation that involved hustling him from one car to another twice. “Everyone understood the magnitude of the decision, how unpredictable it was, and that there would be consequences,” the senior official said. [Source: Steven Lee Myers and Mark Landler, New York Times, May 9, 2012]

“With Mr. Chen inside the embassy, the administration held a series of meetings in Washington to decide how to manage the crisis---with the State Department leading the effort and the White House overseeing it through frequent secure videoconference calls. On April 27, Mr. Campbell informed the Chinese ambassador in Washington, Zhang Yesui, of Mr. Chen’s whereabouts. The diplomat appeared stunned. [Ibid]

“The New York Times reported: “After his arrival at the embassy Chen experienced wild mood swings---crying at times---even as he bargained with the cunning of the lawyer he had taught himself to be. Officials said that during the negotiations inside the embassy, Mr. Chen at times would sit with the two main negotiators, holding each one of them by the hand. The two negotiators were the State Department’s legal adviser, Harold Koh, and the assistant secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific affairs, Kurt M. Campbell. [Ibid]

Chen Guangcheng Leaves the U.S. Embassy and Decides to Go the U.S

“Jane Perlez wrote in the New York Times, Chen Guangcheng "left the American Embassy in Beijing after securing assurances from the Chinese government that he would remain safe, American officials said in the first account of his diplomatically tense six-day stay there. The officials described details of the negotiations between both governments and Mr. Chen as well as a telephone call to the dissident from Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton after he left the embassy compound for treatment at a medical facility here. [Source: Jane Perlez, New York Times, May 2, 2012]

“Mrs. Clinton said in a statement that she was “pleased that we were able to facilitate Chen Guangcheng’s stay and departure from the U.S. Embassy in a way that reflected his choices and our values. I was glad to have the chance to speak with him today and to congratulate him on being reunited with his wife and children.” Mr. Chen has a number of understandings with the Chinese government about his future, including the opportunity to pursue higher education in a safe environment,” she added. “Making these commitments a reality is the next crucial task.” [Ibid]

“After driving a short distance to the Chaoyang Hospital from the embassy compound, Mr. Chen was reunited with his wife and children, whom he had not seen in some time, the officials said. He was being treated by American and Chinese doctors, the officials said. Mr. Chen had agreed that his medical records be given to the Chinese doctors, they said. [Ibid]

“Andrew Jacobs wrote in the New York Times: “In the hours after leaving the embassy Chen grew fearful and changed his mind. A fresh crisis ensued---with critics accusing the Obama administration of pressuring him to leave the compound---and another agreement was quickly forged. The deal, announced May 4, allowed Mr. Chen to attend New York University Law School on a fellowship. The US secretary of state, Hillary Clinton, who was visiting Beijing, intervened and helped to arrange permission for Chen, his wife and daughters to travel to the US to study. [Source: Andrew Jacobs, New York Times, May 19, 2012]

Negotiations in the Chen Guangcheng Case

Steven Lee Myers and Mark Landler wrote in the New York Times: “Over two days of meetings with China’s leaders in Beijing, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton had not uttered a word about Chen Guangcheng as her aides arranged to transfer the blind Chinese dissident from the United States Embassy to a hospital, only to have the plan unexpectedly blow up. Then she finally broached the subject with China’s senior foreign policy official, Dai Bingguo. Mr. Chen, she said, should go to the United States after all. [Source: Steven Lee Myers and Mark Landler, New York Times, May 9, 2012]

“The Chinese were furious. They considered Mrs. Clinton’s request a betrayal of American assurances made during 30 hours of talks. China had insisted on absolute secrecy, demanding no public confirmation that Mr. Chen was in the embassy by any Americans, even members of Congress, whom the Obama administration kept in the dark.”I don’t want to talk to him anymore,” Cui Tiankai, the vice foreign minister, erupted after Mrs. Clinton intervened, gesturing toward Kurt M. Campbell, an assistant secretary of state and a crucial negotiator. [Ibid]

“The confrontation was a pivotal moment in a diplomatic drama replete with unanticipated twists, threats and counterthreats, and at times comical intrigue. Mr. Campbell, for example, took to sneaking out of his hotel in Beijing through an entrance by the garbage bins to avoid public attention. The Chinese security apparatus, meanwhile, aggressively tapped and blocked phone calls by embassy officials, with an agent at one point brazenly dialing into a conversation between Mr. Chen and his wife on the cellphone of the deputy chief of mission, Robert S. Wang. The Americans, fearing that the Chinese would restrict access to Mr. Chen’s hospital, even considered disguising an employee as a nurse to gain entry. [Ibid]

“Mrs. Clinton’s intervention ultimately resulted in a second arrangement to allow Mr. Chen to study at New York University but not to seek asylum, which the Chinese considered an affront. “At a strategic level I think the two sides will quietly take some confidence from this,” a senior administration official said. [Ibid]

“The agreement came at the cost of what the officials said was considerable strain on both sides. Yet the frenzied days and sleepless nights seem to have averted a major embarrassment for the administration and defused a crisis that threatened to upend relations between the two countries. Mr. Chen’s case highlighted what the Americans view as an intensifying struggle within the Chinese leadership between hard-liners and reformers. At one point during the talks, the State Department’s legal adviser, Harold H. Koh, encountered officials from China’s powerful Ministry of State Security arguing in the hallway with their counterparts from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, saying Mr. Chen should be punished, not coddled by the Americans. [Ibid]

Details of the Negotiations in the Chen Guangcheng Case

Steven Lee Myers and Mark Landler wrote in the New York Times: “The talks with the Chinese began on April 29, and did not start well. “We had to go through the process of him just ripping into us,” the senior official said, referring to Mr. Cui, who complained that the United States had violated diplomatic practice. China’s negotiators suggested that they would cancel the Strategic and Economic Dialogue, which was scheduled to begin four days later with the arrival of Mrs. Clinton and Treasury Secretary Timothy F. Geithner. The Americans, in turn, hinted that they, too, were prepared to walk away, hoping to use the prospect of constructive talks as leverage. [Source: Steven Lee Myers and Mark Landler, New York Times, May 9, 2012]

“An already complicated situation became grave when an embassy doctor examined Mr. Chen. In addition to the broken foot from his escape, he complained of severe abdominal pain. His stool contained so much blood that the doctor feared he might have colon cancer. That fueled the urgency to get him to a hospital. [Ibid]

“Mr. Koh, who composed a memorandum that made the case for taking in Mr. Chen, proposed having him study at East China Normal University in Shanghai in a program sponsored by New York University. The Chinese objected, considering the program “too Western.” The Americans were soon holding parallels sets of talks, with Mr. Campbell meeting with the Chinese and [American Ambassador to China Gary Locke and Mr. Koh effectively negotiating with a mercurial Mr. Chen. [Ibid]

“Despite initial resistance, the Chinese appeared willing to consider options for Mr. Chen. One official said they wanted to resolve the case in 36 hours. They did not object to the possibility of his studying at seven other universities in China, but bristled at the idea of an investigation and were offended when the Americans presented a list of 13 people, including Mr. Chen’s brother and nephew, whom they wanted to protect from harassment. (Some have since been released.)

One Chinese official lashed out: “The whole thing could be resolved in 36 minutes, not 36 hours. Just turn him over.” Mr. Chen, though, wanted a gesture. The Chinese authorities arranged for Mr. Chen’s wife, Yuan Weijing, and their two children to travel by train to Beijing. The American deputy chief of mission, Mr. Wang, met them and offered his phone to allow Mrs. Yuan to make the call that the Chinese agent monitored. When Mr. Chen again hesitated, the Chinese indicated that they would send his family back, which critics have interpreted as a threat, saying it was conveyed to Mr. Chen by American officials effectively to coerce him to leave. Mr. Locke, Mr. Campbell and other officials have publicly denied that. Even so, one official acknowledged, “We told him very clearly that there was only so far we could go with assurances.” [Ibid]

Negotiations After Chen Guangcheng Leaves the U.S. Embassy

Steven Lee Myers and Mark Landler wrote in the New York Times: “Once released to the hospital, he used three preprogrammed cellphones provided by the Americans to press his demands in public. He did not want asylum, he said, but rather an investigation by Chinese central government authorities into his mistreatment. The use of technology---posts on Twitter, a dramatic call to a Congressional hearing---boxed in the Chinese but also left Americans scrambling. After speaking to his lawyer and his wife, Mr. Chen abruptly changed his mind and decided he could not stay in China. At that point the American officials were in the dark about his shift. [Source: Steven Lee Myers and Mark Landler, New York Times, May 9, 2012]

“It took us a little while---we were already unbelievably exhausted---to find our bearings,” the senior administration official said of Mr. Chen’s change of heart. What complicated the diplomacy was the fact that the Chinese considered the very notion of negotiations over a Chinese citizen unacceptable. They refused to make any binding commitments to the Americans, exposing the administration to criticism once Mr. Chen left the embassy. Even now, there is no official agreement, but simply a series of “understandings.” [Ibid]

“President Obama, who was first notified when Mr. Chen was already in the embassy, refused to comment on his fate, even when asked directly. That and Mrs. Clinton’s avoidance of his case in her meetings with China’s leaders gave the Chinese space to resolve the matter quietly. “Even if we had negotiated a text, which would have taken six months, the Chinese could have nullified it,” this official said. “Face is more important in Asian society than any contract.” [Ibid]

“The arrangement, reached hours after Mrs. Clinton arrived in Beijing fell apart immediately. In the car, Mr. Chen called a lawyer, Teng Biao, who told him it was a mistake to leave the embassy. “No, no, I want to do this,” Mr. Chen replied, according to a person in the car. “It’s a good deal.” According to The Guardian the arrangement collapsed as Chen heard that his lawyer, brother and nephew had been beaten while he was left alone in the Beijing hospital. [Ibid]

“The scene at the hospital quickly became confused. The Chinese did not object to allowing an American diplomat to stay overnight, contrary to reports that prompted the criticism. As with much of the story, the moment turned less on geopolitics than on human relations. The diplomat, in fact, left because he believed that Mr. Chen wanted privacy with his wife.” The next day “was chaotic, as reports that the agreement had fallen apart led Republican critics to castigate the administration. At the hospital, Mr. Chen underwent lengthy examinations, preventing the Americans from contacting him directly. Doctors found that he was suffering not from cancer, but from colitis. [Ibid]

“In her meeting with Mr. Dai, the foreign policy official, Mrs. Clinton never explicitly asked for anything. She made it clear, however, that she would have to speak about Mr. Chen when she appeared before the press. The subtlety worked: within hours, the Chinese released a statement that Mr. Chen could travel to study abroad like any citizen, and the State Department announced that it would expedite any request for a visa. As one official put it, “The days of blowing up the relationship over a single guy are over.” [Ibid]

Chen Guangcheng Leaves China and Arrives in the U.S

. [Ibid]

“Chen left China aboard a commercial flight bound for Newark. Andrew Jacobs wrote in the New York Times: “Mr. Chen and his family departed around 5:30 p.m. on a United Airlines flight after facing earlier delays. The Chens, accompanied by American officials, were brought onto the plane shortly before takeoff and seated In the business-class cabin. Flight attendants drew a curtain around their seats and barred other passengers in the cabin from using the toilet while the plane was on the runway. [Source: Andrew Jacobs, New York Times, May 19, 2012]

“Speaking by cellphone before he boarded the flight, Mr. Chen told friends he was excited to leave China but that he was also worried about the fate of relatives left behind. “He’s happy to finally have a rest after seven years of suffering, but he’s also worried they will suffer some retribution,” said Bob Fu, president of ChinaAid, a Christian advocacy group in Texas that championed Mr. Chen's case Mr. Fu, who spoke to Mr. Chen several times, said the family had no idea they were leaving---or where they were going---until officials notified them to pack up their few belongings. [Ibid]

“They were driven directly to Beijing International Airport by employees of Chaoyang Hospital, where Mr. Chen was being treated for intestinal problems and for the foot he broke during his escape. Mr. Chen told friends that he and his family were handed their passports by Chinese officials shortly before they boarded the plane. [Ibid]

“Reporting in his arrival in the U.S., Jonathan Watts and Paul Harris wrote in The Observer: The blind Chinese activist Chen Guangcheng has arrived to begin a new life in the United States while vowing to keep fighting against injustice in his homeland. "We should link our arms and continue to fight for the goodness in the world and continue to fight injustice? I hope everybody works for me to promote justice and fairness in China," Chen said through an interpreter. Chen's speech attracted a small crowd of onlookers who cheered him and a few cars honked their horns. "Nothing is impossible as long as you put your heart to it. As we say in Chinese there is no small affair as long as you put your heart to it," he said. [Source: By Jonathan Watts and Paul Harris, The Observer, May 20, 2012]

New York University in Greenwich Village has said he will study as a fellow at its school of law. "For the past seven years I have never had a day's rest so I have come here for a bit of recuperation in body and in spirit," Chen said. His lawyer Liu Weiguo said it was unlikely he would be allowed to return any time soon. "The chance for him to come back is small. I fear the Chinese government won't allow him to come back. This kind of thing has precedents." Chen is said to be unhappy about leaving relatives behind in a village controlled by Linyi's notoriously violent local authorities. But Liu said he did not blame Chen. [Ibid]

China Cracksdown on Chen Guangcheng’s Relatives

Chen's escape unleashed a police crackdown on his relatives and the people who helped him flee. Chris Buckley and Sui-Lee Wee of Reuters wrote: “Chen “and a family lawyer have accused local officials of detaining two of his relatives and hounding and harassing others in revenge for his recent escape from house arrest and for sparking an international furor. "Now they're going crazy with reprisals," Chen said. "In fact, they've already started taking revenge." [Source: Chris Buckley and Sui-Lee Wee, Reuters, May 10, May 20, 2012]

Chen said relatives back in Shandong appeared to be bearing the brunt of officials' anger over his audacious escape and the international uproar it sparked.Chen, who recently spoke by phone to his elderly mother but otherwise had patchy communications with his relatives, said his biggest worry was the fate of his nephew Chen Kegui. He said police had detained Chen Kegui after the nephew was accused of brandishing a kitchen cleaver at guards who had stormed into the home of the blind dissident's brothers after his bold escape prompted a panicked search by officials. "It seems the Yinan public security has already said he's in their hands," said Chen, adding that a sister-in-law had also been detained. [Ibid]

“Chen Kegui's mother "obtained a guarantee pending a trial", similar to bail, after her six days of detention, while his father, Chen Guangfu, was barred from leaving the village and his mobile phone confiscated, the lawyer Liu said. Police told Chen's relatives that they were searching for Chen Kegui's wife, demanding that she sign some paperwork, although Chen said the wife might also be in police detention. [Ibid]

“Before his departure, Chen said his elder brother, Chen Guangfu, was "under restrictions". Shandong officials, he said, had said they would increase Chen Kegui's sentence if Chen Guangfu takes interviews. He said his brother had been beaten "around the 27th or 28th of April. They hooded him, slapped him and used shoes to slap his feet." He also said the number of guards had been increased in his village. [Ibid]

“The abuse of power and the evil committed by the local government still haven’t been brought under control,” Chen told the Washington Post. “I worry that the reprisals, the infringement of people’s rights, the violations of the law back at home will get even worse.” Sun Wenguang, a retired professor and Chen supporter in Shandong, told Reuters officials there were unlikely to ease restrictions. "The Communist Party doesn't want to set a precedent over this case by easing up after a dissident has escaped detention," he said. Sun, who lives in the provincial capital Jinan, said he was being followed and monitored 24 hours a day by security police and receiving harassing phone calls deep in the night. [Ibid]

Fate of Chen Guangcheng’s Brother and Nephew

The Guardian reported: “Chen Guangfu---the brother of Chen Guangcheng and father of Chen Kegui’said he had been chained to a chair and beaten for three days to make him reveal how his sibling had escaped from house arrest in the Shandong countryside. Chen Guangfu, a farmer and laborer, was reported missing from a Beijing hotel room after fleeing his village in north-eastern China to seek help for his son. He returned home after a few days. [Source: David Batty, The Guardian , May 26, 2012]

“The Washington Post reported: “Chen’s older brother and his wife are under de facto house arrest in Dongshigu, prohibited from leaving by the men who control entry and exit to the village... Chen Kegui is being held at the Yinan county detention center in Shandong province, charged with attempted “intentional murder,” according to lawyer Liu Weiguo. Chen Kegui faces a possible death sentence and has been denied access to his lawyers. [Source: Keith B. Richburg, Washington Post, May 11, 2012]

“Chen Kegui injured three people who stormed into his house late on April 26, the authorities discovered that Chen Guangcheng had escaped, Liu said. The three turned out to be government officials, including one named Zhang Jian, a senior official from the town of Shuanghou, in Yinan county, who Liu said sustained relatively serious injuries. “It’s unreasonable to accuse Chen Kegui of murder,” said Liu, who showed The Washington Post a copy of the detention order. “He acted in self-defense.” [Ibid]

“Liu, in an interview in his office in Jinan, the provincial capital, told the Washington Post he had initially agreed to represent the young man a day after the incident, in response to a request from Chen Kegui’s wife. Police warned him not to get involved, however, and to give no interviews. “They said they would visit my mother,” Liu said, recounting a telephoned threat from security police. “Now the pressure on me is really enormous.” [Ibid]

“Liu told the Washington Post he arranged for a lawyer from Guangzhou, far away in southern China, to take Chen Kegui’s case. But he said that the lawyer, Chen Wuquan, had his law license abruptly confiscated by the Guangzhou Lawyers Association. Liu said he considers the actions against the lawyers an attack on the rule of law and a violation of the principle that lawyers should be able to represent any client free of government harassment. “I’ve been banned from taking this case, lawyer Chen has been banned, and more lawyers will be banned. But please tell the outside world that the lawyers won’t quit,” Liu said. “This is not for Chen’s family or for any individual. This is for the dignity of all Chinese.” [Ibid]

Washington Post: Chen’s Guangcheng’s Hometown Still a Scary Place After Chen Left

Reporting from Linyi, China, Keith B. Richburg wrote in the Washington Post: “At the turnoff to the road leading to Dongshigu, the home village of activist lawyer Chen Guangcheng, burly men hold sway, hiding their faces behind sunglasses, broad-brimmed straw hats and shirts held up to their noses. They block anyone from entering the village, shouting at and kicking vehicles that slow down or venture too close. Plainclothes security officers wait nearby in unmarked black cars, ready to tail outsiders in a conspicuously sinister form of close-up surveillance. In the neighboring village of Xishigu, frightened residents tell in whispers of additional men and security agents moving into the area since late April, when Chen, who is blind, defied the odds and pulled off an escape so improbable that villagers say he possesses “magic” powers. [Source: Keith B. Richburg, Washington Post, May 11, 2012]

“I don’t dare go over there,” one woman said, pointing across the cornfields toward the bridge that separates her village from Chen’s. “They don’t have guns, they use sticks. If you look like an outsider, like you’re not from the village, they beat you.”Residents said that since Chen fled to Beijing, the reign of fear has expanded beyond Dongshigu to at least three other close-knit villages in the city of Linyi, in the eastern province of Shandong. [Ibid]

“A visit to the area by The Washington Post seemed to confirm Chen’s fears. When a reporter’s car slowed down as if to turn onto the road leading to Dongshigu, men raced over, yelling and kicking the side of the car. The vehicle was then followed for several miles, including at high speeds when it reached the expressway, by as many as three black cars. One car had no license plates, front or back. Another was registered in Laiwu city, in the center of Shandong province, and the third was registered in Weifang city, north of Linyi. The use of cars from different cities suggested a province-wide security and surveillance operation, not confined to Linyi. [Ibid]

“Interviews conducted in Xishigu, the nearby village, revealed a climate of fear. “We’re all scared,” said one young man, a farmer in his mid-30s with a young daughter. “They might come and arrest us.” A 56-year-old man who gave his surname as Wang said Chen’s many relatives in the area are all under strict watch, including those not under house arrest. “Even if his family members are allowed to go out, they are followed by those thugs,” the man said. [Ibid]

Chen Guangchen in the U.S

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“On Chen Guangchen’s life a month after his arrival in the United States, William Wan wrote in the Washington Post: “Chen “and his family are still adjusting to the change---from being confined to the bare-walled room where they were watched by authorities in rural Shangdong province to a new three-bedroom apartment in bustling Lower Manhattan’s Greenwich Village, supported by tutors, law professors, PR managers, interpreters and security personnel. [Source: William Wan, Washington Post, June 18, 2012]

“The international spotlight on them has faded, but its glare is still felt in the form of entreaties from agents, politicians, reporters and activist groups. Chen and his wife have received calls from the well-meaning (disability groups wanted to give him a guide dog, Chinese American Christians offered their vacation homes) and from those with less altruistic aims (Hollywood producers are pushing to buy the movie rights to his story and a raft of TV news producers are vying to book him). [Ibid]

“Chen has turned down or taken a rain check on almost all requests so that he can focus on two things: his studies and the safety of extended family members in China, who he fears could be the targets of retribution from authorities. Some assumed his plans to study abroad were merely a cover for him to leave China. But Chen has embraced the opportunity with the same stubborn persistence that transformed him from a blind peasant in a system in which the disabled are largely marginalized into an internationally recognized activist. His wife, Yuan Weijing, who learned some English in China, has joined him in the daily two-hour English-language tutorials he takes, as well as law classes that began last week. [Ibid]

“NYU law professor Jerome Cohen, widely considered the foremost expert on Chinese law studies in the United States---has custom-tailored Chen’s legal curriculum. Although he often avoids criticizing the Chinese government or its laws, he does fault authorities for not enforcing the law. In his spare time, Chen has begun delicately delving again into the world of activism. Although he has become most known for his work against forced abortions imposed on rural peasants under China’s one-child policy, he has largely stayed away from politically charged issues related to abortion in the United States. Instead, he said, he is focusing on campaigning for the rights of the disabled in New York. “How a society treats its disabled is the true measure of a civilization,” he said. [Ibid]

“Chen said he hopes to be able to return to China after his studies. It is a theoretical possibility under the terms of his negotiated deal, but one that may depend partly on what he says and how far he goes in his activism while in the United States. He said he believes that change is coming to China and that still-abstract concepts, such as “unalienable rights,” will become a reality. And when they do, he explained, he wants to be there, as a witness and a contributor. [Ibid]

Chen Guangchen Speaks Out on Democracy from the U.S

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In late May, in his first major public appearance since being allowed to leave China to study at New York University, Chen said that democratic change in China is slow, but irreversible. "I'm very optimistic," Chen said. "Nobody can stop the process of history, whether it's the central government, whether the central government wants to move forward or backwards." [Source: Sebastian Smith, AFP, Jun 1, 2012]

“Chen told the Council on Foreign Relations think tank that the Internet age meant the communist state machine had already lost much of its grip. "Chinese society has gotten to the era where if you don't want something known, you better not do it. People are using all kinds of means to disseminate information. Can you do cover-ups? No. That possibility is diminishing," he said. Countering the frequent argument that China, with its different culture and history, should not copy Western-style democracy, Chen cited the examples of Japan, South Korea, and Taiwan, and said: "We also need to learn eastern democracy.” [Ibid]

“But activists at home and Western powers watching from the outside should not force China, he said. "Many people, they want to move that mountain in one week. That's not realistic. We have to move it bit by bit and move it by ourselves."According to Chen, the central government in Beijing is moving in the right direction, but local authorities, such as the officials who harassed him and he says are still persecuting his family, are acting lawlessly. "The central government is letting me come to the US to study. That is unprecedented, regardless of what they did in the past. As long as they move in the right direction, we should affirm it, rather than... (be) challenging everything," he said. [Ibid]

“The central government is ready to reform, "but I think local authorities are very backward and it's going to take time to change them," he said. If local authorities are not forced to respect China's laws, then the central powers will "lose control," he warned. Earlier he penned an op-ed in The New York Times where he blasted what he said was the failure of Chinese authorities to respect the country's own laws. "China's political stability may depend on its ability to develop the rule of law in a system where it barely exists," he wrote. "China stands at a critical juncture.” [Ibid]

Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, The Guardian, National Geographic, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic Monthly, The Economist, Global Viewpoint (Christian Science Monitor), Foreign Policy, Wikipedia, BBC, CNN, NBC News, Fox News and various books and other publications.

Last updated August 2012


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