China Approves Passports for Chen Guangcheng’s Family

China has granted passports to the mother and eldest brother of blind Chinese activist Chen Guangcheng, according to Reuters:

Eldest brother Chen Guangfu said a passport application for him and his mother had unexpectedly been approved, after months of obfuscation by local officials.

“They were sent over this morning … Of course I’ve very happy as we’d been applying for a long time,” Guangfu said by telephone from his home in the eastern province of Shandong.

“Lots of people on the Internet are saying that. I certainly think there’s a connection,” he said, when asked if he thought the granting of the passports was related to the Xi-Obama get together in California.

“We want to go and see Guangcheng in the United States,” Guangfu added. “We’ve got to discuss it with him.” [Source]

Chen Guangfu has suffered harassment by officials and hired thugs in his family’s home in Shandong province since Cheng Guangcheng fled illegal house arrest a year ago and was ultimately allowed to travel to the United States to study after seeking protection in its Beijing embassy. Simon Rabinovitch of the Financial Times calls the passport approvals “an apparent goodwill gesture by Beijing” in advance of this weekend’s summit between Chinese president Xi Jinping and his U.S. counterpart Barack Obama:

“Receiving a passport is the right of all citizens. There should be nothing strange about this. But I applied before and was turned down, so I am quite happy,” Chen Guangfu told the Financial Times. “You should not have to expend this much energy to protect your own rights.”

Chen Guangfu said the authorities had previously refused to accept his passport application because they said it would be difficult for him to obtain a US visa. On this occasion, he submitted his application on May 28 and received his passport by mail on Friday. [Source]