Chen Guangcheng: Law, Media and Broken Promises

Jerome Cohen discusses the continuing house arrest of Chen Guangcheng and his family at the South China Morning Post, arguing that the local authorities’ disregard for the law demonstrates the practical limitations of legal reform.

Is Chen destined to be illegally silenced for the rest of his life? He will soon turn 40 and has the iron will and charisma of a Gandhi. He is badly debilitated, however, after being denied adequate medical attention for six years for increasingly serious gastroenteritis. His death in prison would plainly embarrass his captors, but dying “at home” might appear less sinister.

Neither current criminal legislation nor proposed revisions offer hope of a legal remedy. In practice the procuracy, the supposed “watchdog of legality” imported from the Soviet Union, is politically powerless to fulfil its legal obligations to hold the police to legal standards. Condemnations by United Nations experts and foreign governments, media, rights organisations and scholars have failed to move Zhou Yongkang , who was minister of public security when Chen was first detained and now heads the central Communist Party Political-Legal Committee that controls all Chinese legal institutions. Popular protests against shameless injustice seem to offer Chen’s only chance.

Cohen counsels caution regarding the resumption of Chen’s daughter’s schooling. He notes that a similar return to school for the daughter of missing lawyer Gao Zhisheng “only added to the pressures that battered her and did not presage release for her courageous father.”

Chinese Human Rights Defenders reported apparent progress on Tuesday [zh], in the form of supposed guarantees of Chen’s right to medical treatment and even visitors. These were extracted by journalist Li Jianjun from the Yinan County Public Security Bureau, which conceded:

“Chen Guangcheng is not a foreign aggressor, he is a citizen, with all the rights and responsibilities that entails. He can visit the hospital and receive visitors.”

Li’s visit to Dongshigu on Wednesday nevertheless followed the usual pattern, according to a briefing from CHRD:

Despite authorities’ spoken guarantees, Hunan journalist and activist Li Jianjun (李建军) was one of three individuals taken into custody and interrogated by police on October 26, when the group was on the way to see the lawyer and activist Chen Guangcheng (陈光诚) in Shandong Province. The incident occurred just after officials fed dubious claims and unlikely promises to Li about going to visit Chen in Dongshigu Village. Over the previous two days, authorities had told Li that, contrary to online reports, Chen is allowed medical care and can have visitors if he so chooses, and that recent reports of beatings of activists going to Dongshigu are merely rumors. A former journalist with the Chengdu Business Times, Li was also repeatedly promised that he would not be interfered with if he went to the village.

Li was seized and taken to the Shuanghou Township Police Station in Linnan County along with Wang Xuezhen (王雪臻) and Guo Feng (郭峰). At the station, the activists asked police about the guarantees of a safe journey provided by authorities, and officers said they could file a report but implied it would not do any good. Wang, who had been robbed when she had come to the area in September, was struck in the mouth by a station personnel, and the three individuals’ cell phones were taken away. The three were released later and decided to abandon their trip to Dongshigu.

China Media Project’s David Bandurski examined Chinese responses to Chen’s situation by both citizens and media, pointing to previously mentioned articles in Global Times and the Oriental Morning Post:

Perhaps taking the cake is a pair of videos originally posted to the domestic video sharing site Youku (but now on YouTube [and embedded at CMP]) in which supporters of Chen Guangcheng unable to gain access to his village put up a fireworks display on the village’s outskirts. “Lighting up the sky for you, Guangcheng,” says the voice on the video.

Getting back to the issue of newspaper coverage, however, it is important to note that the October 12 Global Times editorial on Chen Guangcheng’s case (“The Chen Guangcheng Incident Should not be Turned Ideological”) was not just, as Farris said, “the first time the Global Times has ever mentioned Chen in a Chinese language piece” — it was the first time any Chinese newspaper mentioned Chen Guangcheng in any way, shape or form since 2004.

There were a handful of independent blog reports on Chen Guangcheng’s case, most notably by CMP fellows Wang Keqin (王克勤) and Zhai Minglei (翟明磊), but there was never any mention in mainstream news media.

CMP also posted a cartoon by artist Kuang Biao showing the “Rabid Dogs of Linyi” guarding “the East Village of Corpses and Bones” (a play on ‘Dongshigu’: 东尸骨村, rather than 东师古村). See also Zeng Jinyan’s post at the Index on Censorship’s Uncut blog, and CDT’s round-up of recent coverage and list of related search terms (including 东尸骨村) which have been blocked on Sina Weibo.