Attempted Visits to Chen Guangcheng Surge

The New York Times’ Andrew Jacobs reports on the gathering momentum of efforts to visit civil rights activist Chen Guangcheng and his family, who have been held under house arrest since Chen’s release from prison in late 2010. This completed sentence followed Chen’s attempts to fight local officials’ use of illegal family planning measures such as forced abortion.

A campaign to draw attention to the plight of Chen Guangcheng, the rights lawyer who has been forcibly confined to his home in China’s Shandong Province for more than a year, escalated over the weekend, with dozens of people trying to visit him, human rights advocates said Monday.

As in the past, all those who tried to reach Mr. Chen, who is blind, were violently thwarted by guards before they could get near his home, according to several of the participants and the group Chinese Human Rights Defenders.

Among those who made the trip to Dongshigu village on Saturday were 30 activists from across China who launched 80 paper lanterns into the night sky in an attempt, they said, to let Mr. Chen know about their efforts. The following day when they approached the entrance to the village, the group said they were attacked by as many as 300 people, robbed of their cellphones and cameras, and chased out of town.

Jacobs described the background of the campaign in another New York Times report last week:

They have been pummeled with sticks or chased by rock-throwing security agents. Some have been beaten, robbed and dumped in remote farm fields without cellphones or money.

In the year since the blind lawyer Chen Guangcheng was released from jail and promptly imprisoned at home, a trickle of foolhardy souls has been thus rebuffed after attempting to penetrate the cordon of paid thugs who repel visitors from his village in eastern Shandong Province. Foreign journalists and European diplomats who have tried to see him have fared little better ….

However, [the activists’] campaign — Operation Free Chen Guangcheng — is drawing increased attention to a figure that Shandong party officials have for years struggled to silence and is spotlighting the kind of extralegal punishment that Beijing prefers to keep under wraps.

“I couldn’t believe something so dark and evil could happen in my country, so I had to see for myself,” said Hu Xuming, 38, a computer salesman, explaining why he joined a group of five strangers, all of whom were attacked the moment their vehicle pulled up the road leading to the village, Dongshigu.

McClatchy’s Tom Lasseter tried to visit Dongshigu last week, and recounted his own and others’ experiences, also tweeting photos of his brush with the village’s guardians. From The Miami Herald:

Wang Xuezhen, a 30-year-old purchasing agent for a furniture business and online activist, recounted her own recent try to enter Dongshigu.

“A bag was put on my head, I was down on the ground and those people kicked me over and over,” she said ….

As Wang spoke during an interview at a Kentucky Fried Chicken, a man with a thick build and a closely cropped haircut sat at the next table and listened intently. Wang, a small woman who keeps her long black hair tucked behind the ears, gestured at the man and said he probably was following her ….

When she asked why she’d been beaten and then detained, Wang recounted with exasperation in her voice, police said that “the villagers had accused me of trying to steal a cow.”

A recent briefing from Chinese Human Rights Defenders described the fortifications in place in and around Dongshigu:

In sum, there are two surveillance points in front and behind Chen’s home, and six other points set up at various locations on the four narrow roads that enter Dongshigu Village. There are a total of six surveillance cameras in the village. Two mobile phone jammers are set up at the homes of Chen’s neighbors to the west and east.

Reportedly, almost 100 hired thugs keep Chen under surveillance, and all are recruited from outside the village. They are divided into two large squads and 12 smaller groups, and maintain radio communication with each other while working around the clock. And like many extensive operations, monitoring Chen and the entire village is also wealth-generating. Given two daily meals, each person pockets 100 RMB a day—far more lucrative pay than the average villager (even the village party secretary earns just 3,000 RMB in salary per year). The guards are led by Gao Xingjian (高兴见), who comes from a nearby village . Gao was appointed as head of the guards after fighting off past visitors on many occasions, and has supposedly amassed a good deal of wealth from filling that role.

While these defenses have yet to be breached, Chen’s supporters appear to have won a return to school for his six-year-old daughter, who had previously been confined to the family home with no toys, books or other educational materials. The apparent victory may further fuel the campaign, according to The Wall Street Journal:

“To obtain this type of progress, Chinese web users and Guangcheng’s supporters have paid a huge price,” said Zeng Jinyan, a human-rights activist.

She says she received confirmation this week that Mr. Chen’s daughter, Chen Kesi, has been allowed to begin attending school, but has been escorted by security guards to and from the family’s home in the village of Dongshigu, near the city of Linyi, about halfway between Beijing and Shanghai on China’s east coast. While the family was under informal house arrest last year, authorities had previously prevented the girl from attending school, Ms. Zeng said. it wasn’t clear when exactly the girl started attending school ….

Unlike in many cases involving imprisoned or detained rights activists in China, it appears domestic outrage is prompting the government to act rather than international pressure.

The huge price Zeng refers to includes the threat of further detention for her husband Hu Jia, whose three and a half year prison term for inciting subversion ended in June. Hu’s recent weibo posting in support of Chen, translated by Siweiluozi, was recently featured on CDT. From AFP:

Police told Hu on Friday that he would be placed under “administrative detention” if he violated “any of the terms of his deprivation of political rights”, Hong Kong-based Chinese Human Rights Defenders said in a statement ….

“I told the police clearly — I won’t be restricted on issues concerning citizens’ rights and benefits as well as freedom,” Hu said.

“In this country the government is the one that violates human rights, police officers are performing tasks that violate human rights… so I must express my resistance in public, express my condemnation.”

On Google+, Beijing-based lawyer William Farris noted the Oriental Morning Post’s quickly censored response to an editorial in the Chinese-language Global Times (which, Farris notes, differed somewhat from the English version featured on CDT). The Post argued that the Times, having urged Linyi authorities to exercise greater transparency, ought to publish a fuller account of the situation themselves. From Farris’ translation:

Take for example Chen’s so-called “life complications” mentioned in the article – is this to say that he has been sanctioned in accordance with the law, or a public security “extra-legal punishment,” having his rights trampled? If there really is so-called “soft detention,” and where is the legal basis for it? Article 37 of the “Criminal Law of the People’s Republic of China says that the personal liberty of citizens of the People’s Republic of China may not be subject to infringement, and prohibits illegal detention and other forms of denying or restricting the personal liberty of citizens. The two words “soft detention” have never existed in China’s law, and “residential surveillance” must be done by the police, and is not something that other civil servants can strictly implement under the Criminal Procedure Law.

Furthermore, on the one hand the Global Times report indirectly admits, the local government’s handling of Chen Guangcheng does not meet “strict law and human rights standards.” On the other hand, it also states that Chen Guangcheng caused “interference that laws and regulations could not accept.” Is it possible for a legal system to have two kinds of standards? That article repeatedly emphasized the so-called “small environment” of the locality, is it possible that they did not know that the nation’s laws should not be twisted for the “small environment” of a locality?

Comrade Mao Zedong says: without investigating, there is no right to opine. The media needs to just objectively and comprehensively tell the public “who is Chen Guangcheng,” and the public will see things clearly.

Farris also reports that Chinese search engines have joined Sina Weibo in suppressing search requests for “Free Guangcheng”. Also on Google+, Catherine Yeung has translated messages of support from a number of scholars and other figures including Wu Jiaxiang:

It’s difficult to image how a regime can be so intimated by a disabled person. Could it be the case that this regime is suffering from even more severe disability? My hope is that even if the rights of normal people cannot be fully respected, at the very least a disabled person will be granted permission to see a doctor when he is ill. Otherwise, history is going to judge you harshly.

… and media commentator Xiao Shu:

What strikes me is that he comes from a genuine grass-root background. And yet his inner strength is far stronger than most fighters and elites that I know. He personifies the infinite latent power of China’s grass-root communities. Not only is he from the grass-roots; what is more, he is blind. He cannot see with his eyes. To him, therefore, the physical world is completely dark. He cannot see anything. However, the power of his conscience, the power of his inner conscience, allows him to gain a better understanding than most people with normal vision of this world, and of the road on which our nation should embark. In this sense, he is the leader of those of us who are embarking on this road. He is walking way ahead of us, way ahead of many people with normal vision. This is why I admire him.

See also Yeung’s translation of Zeng Jinyan’s thoughts on Chen Guangcheng from her blog, Under the Jacaranda Tree, past coverage of Chen and his family’s situation on CDT, and a Change.org petition for their release.

Sources:

Attempted Visits to Chinese Dissident Surge – NYTimes.com
Taking Big Risks to See a Chinese Dissident Under House Arrest – NYTimes.com
China cuts access to lawyer who fought one-child policy – MiamiHerald.com
China Human Rights Briefing October 13-20, 2011 – Chinese Human Rights Defenders
China Loosens Grip on Activist’s Family – WSJ.com
Police warn China activist against speaking out – AFP
Shanghai Newspaper Slams Global Times’ Chen Guangcheng Op-ed, Gets Censored – William Farris – Google+
Prominent scholar Wu Jiaxiang makes a public appeal for Chen Guangcheng – Catherine Yeung – Google+
Xiao Shu, Veteran Media Commentator, makes a public appeal for Chen Guangcheng – Catherine Yeung – Google+
He Warms Our Hearts with “Light” (Guang) and “Sincerity” (Cheng) – Zeng Jinyan – Under the Jacaranda Tree