(New York) – The Chinese government should immediately guarantee blind human rights defender Chen Guangcheng’s safety, end its persecution of him and his family, and ensure that he is not returned to any form of detention or subject to any restrictions on his rights, Human Rights Watch said today. Human Rights Watch has been calling for Chen’s release since 2006.
Chen, a blind legal activist, is reported to have escaped from his home village of Dongshigu in Shandong province on April 22, 2012, after 19 months of unlawful detention. According to activists, Chen is reportedly in a “100% safe location” in Beijing. Chen described his escape in a video circulated on the Chinese-language website Boxun earlier today. In the video, Chen appeals to Chinese Prime Minister Wen Jiabao to “personally intervene” by opening an investigation on Chen and his family’s confinement and “those who ordered county-level police and officials to break into my house, beat and hurt me, refused me medical attention – without any legal foundation or officers wearing uniforms.”
“The central government has for years condoned, abetted, and possibly directed the human rights abuses visited upon Chen and his family,” said Sophie Richardson, China director at Human Rights Watch. “We’re well past the time when the government should focus on the conduct of officials in Shandong, and cease persecution of someone whose activism is wholly legal.”
In June 2005, Chen filed a class action lawsuit accusing officials in Linyi, Shandong Province, of seeking to enforce strict population control laws by subjecting thousands of people to forced abortions and sterilization.
In 2005, local officials subjected Chen and his family to illegal house arrest for seven months. In March 2006, Yinan county police officers “disappeared” Chen for three months before formally announcing on June 10, 2006, that he was being held in the Yinan County Detention Center. On June 21, 2006, the Yinan County People’s Procuratorate formally arrested Chen on trumped-up charges of “damaging property and assembling a crowd to disrupt traffic.” Chen’s lawyers were prevented from interviewing witnesses and gathering evidence. On August 24, 2006, Chen was found guilty and sentenced to four years and three months in prison.
On September 9, 2010, Chen was released from Linyi Prison after having served his full sentence. Since his release, Chen and his wife Yuan Weijing have been subjected to house arrest. On February 9, 2011, ChinaAid released a video showing the harsh conditions of this house arrest. A few days later, a CNN crew was forcibly prevented from interviewing Chen.
In February 2011, an hour-long video covertly filmed by Chen and his wife, Yuan Weijing, documenting the draconian conditions of confinement they suffered, was released by ChinaAid. Chen and Yuan were reportedly severely beaten after the video was made public. Chinese citizens, foreign diplomats, and foreign journalists from news agencies, including CNN, The New York Times, and Le Monde, who tried to visit Chen, were threatened and, in some cases, attacked.
Since July 2011, increasing numbers of Chinese citizens have attempted to break the unlawful blockade around Chen’s home in order to visit him and express support. These activists encounter obstruction by police and plainclothes thugs who appear to operate at official behest and who unlawfully detain them and prevent them from reaching Chen’s hometown in Dongshigu, Linyi County of Shandong Province. Some activists have been beaten and robbed in their attempts to reach Chen’s village. Chen and Yuan were reportedly brutally beaten for four hours by the local mayor and other officials, in the presence of their daughter.
In October 2011, Chen’s six-year old daughter, Chen Kesi, was allowed to attend school after previously being barred. Meanwhile, a domestic campaign called Operation Free Chen Guangcheng – attempts to visit Chen by dozens of Chinese citizens and activists – has intensified. In the video released on Boxun today, Chen expressed concern that his family might possibly be targeted for “retaliation of insane proportion” by the Shandong local officials and security agents who had kept him and his family captive. Chen said that guards had, during the period of confinement, broken one of his wife’s bones and physically assaulted his elderly mother on her most recent birthday.
Human Rights Watch said that, given the long history of unlawful suppression of Chen and his family as well as those who have tried to help him over the years, there are grave concerns about the status, whereabouts, and well-being of those close to Chen. Of particular concern are his wife Yuan Weijing, daughter Chen Kesi, the activist He Peirong, who reportedly helped Chen out of Shandong Province, and Chen’s nephew, Chen Kegui. State media reported that Chen Kegui is currently being pursued by the police following a violent confrontation involving government officials in his home earlier this week.
“The international community must move quickly to demand protection of Chen, his family, and those who support him, and should consider dispatching diplomats to Shandong to monitor the situation,” said Richardson. “Beijing’s inclination towards further brutality in this case could be mitigated by governments’ audible and visible expressions of concern.”