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China: For Blind Activist, Prison Release May Not Mean Freedom

Chen Guangcheng’s Family Endures Four Years Enforced House Arrest

(New York) - The Chinese government should not place the blind activist Chen Guangcheng under unlawful house arrest after his scheduled release from prison on September 9, Human Rights Watch said today.

Last week, local officials warned Mr. Chen's wife, Yuan Weijing, that the security detail that has been enforcing the family's surveillance and house arrest during Chen's detention would be increased upon his homecoming; and that 24-hour close circuit video cameras would be installed outside the family's house. Such restrictions on the family's movements and communications have no basis in Chinese law, and Ms. Yuan has never been notified of any legal proceedings against her. Activists in China routinely face such restrictions, referred to as ruan jin or "soft detention" in police parlance.

"For some Chinese activists, the end of a prison term is just the beginning of a life-long sentence of police surveillance and harassment," said Sophie Richardson, acting Asia director at Human Rights Watch. "The Chinese government has a chance to demonstrate real respect for the rule of law by ending its persecution of Chen and his family on September 9."

Chen Guangcheng became one of China's best known human rights activists after he led a campaign to stop the authorities of Linyi city from forcing peasants to have abortions and submit to sterilization proceedings to meet population-control quotas. He was sentenced in December 2006 on trumped-up criminal counts of destroying property and organizing a mob to disrupt traffic.

During his incarceration Chen complained that the prison authorities refused him adequate treatment for a chronic gastric disorder, and his family is hoping that he can receive adequate treatment once he is released. Recently released convicts are often classified as members of a "target population" that is subject to special surveillance by the Public Security organs. Those bodies often impose temporary restrictions on movements and reject applications for passports and overseas travels.

Chen's sentencing in 2006 brought widespread international condemnation, and focused attention on the challenges faced by ordinary rural residents when trying to vindicate their rights and to find redress for violations committed by local officials abusing their powers. Chen was first sentenced in August 2006, but the resulting outcry led the government to order the case to be retried. In December 2006, Chen was convicted on identical charges and sentenced to an identical sentence amidst a flurry of irregularities and procedural violations by the same court that had pronounced the original decision.

"Chen should never have been imprisoned in the first place," said Richardson. "We expect that his full freedom will be restored, and that the harassment of his family will finally cease."

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