Friday, 27 April 2012

Daring Escape and Demanding Freedom

Blind activist lawyer Chen Guangcheng in his latest video
There was breaking news this afternoon that blind Chinese lawyer activist Chen Guangcheng escaped from house arrest and is now in Beijing.

Even though he completed a four-year jail sentence in September 2010, he was still subjected to police surveillance at home, making it difficult for him, his wife and young daughter to go outside and meet their friends and loved ones.

Supporters -- including actor Christian Bale -- were refused entry to his home in Dongshigu village in Shandong province, and in many cases they were roughed up.

And so it was quite remarkable Chen was able to get away, but sadly left behind his wife and daughter to bear the brunt of his efforts.

Apparently Chen was able to get out of his home April 22 and his friends escorted him to a safer location. They refuse to give more details, but say that Chen is safe in Beijing.

There are now rumours that Chen is in the US Embassy there, but consular officials refuse to comment.

Nevertheless, he has released a 15-minute video where he addresses Premier Wen Jiabao. In a reasoned voice he asks that Wen investigate and prosecute local officials Chen claims beat him and his family members up; that the safety of his family is ensured; and that corruption in general be dealt with and punished according to the law.

It's interesting he chose to address Wen directly, perhaps challenging the premier to not just talk about reforms, but actually go through with them.

Analysts don't think senior officials will pay much attention to Chen, but it does put them in an awkward situation as US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will be coming next week for the next round of the US-China Strategic Economic Dialogue.

Beijing would probably rather that Chen leave the country, but his supporters say he is not interested in going into exile; instead he is hoping to negotiate his and his family's freedom.

"We asked if he was willing to get out of China. He's very reluctant and he  said he wants to fight to the end inside China for his citizen's rights. He wants to lead a normal life as a Chinese citizen," said Bob Fu, an activist based in the US.

This latest development shines a spotlight on Chen's case, that he is being illegally detained by the authorities in his own home and his friends and supporters cannot visit him, leaving him isolated.

He had already done his jail time and yet the authorities felt it still wasn't enough.

How can Wen claim that there is rule of law in China when people like Chen are held against their will and unable to speak out?

Chen was jailed in 2006 for accusing family planning officials in Shandong of forcing at least 7,000 women to undergo sterilizations or late-term abortions.

He has now somehow managed to get out and lob a ball into Beijing's court. How will it respond?

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