Mounting Harassment of Chen Guangcheng’s Family

Authorities in Shandong have marked the anniversary of Chen Guangcheng’s escape from illegal house arrest with a mounting campaign of harassment against the family members he left behind, according to his brother Chen Guangfu. In the latest development, the legal activist’s nephew Chen Kegui has been denied medical parole from a 39-month sentence for attacking officials during an unannounced nighttime search of his family home. From the AFP:

“We are very worried. Medical experts say the appendix could easily burst. There is a risk to his life,” Chen said, adding: “The prison hospital is unable to deal with the kind of illness Chen Kegui has.”

Prison officials said they would make their own arrangements for treating Chen Kegui, he said, adding that he had been permitted to visit his son in prison several times.

[…] In an apparent concession, local prosecutors appear to have dropped a case against Chen Kegui’s mother, Ren Zongju, whom they accused of “harbouring a criminal” for helping her son before his capture, Chen Guangfu added.

But Chen Guangfu described a continued campaign of harassment against his family, with local thugs attacking his house with rocks, and posters describing his family as “traitors” placed on nearby streets.

Human Rights Watch provides more details on Chen Kegui’s illness and the various forms of “harassment and intimidation” to which his family has been subjected. “Chen Kegui urgently needs effective medical care,” commented the organization’s China director, Sophie Richardson. “Until the Beijing, Shandong, and Linyi authorities cease their persecution of the Chen family, it is hard to see what difference Xi Jinping’s administration is making over the previous leadership despite his promise to ‘put power in a cage of laws’.”

An editorial in The Washington Post last week noted Chen Guangcheng’s view that neither Beijing nor Washington has kept promises made last year:

It was a year ago this week that blind Chinese dissident Chen Guangcheng escaped from illegal home detention in his native village in Shandong province and made his way to the U.S. Embassy in Beijing, where he was given shelter. After days of intense negotiations between senior U.S. and Chinese officials, including then-Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, a deal was struck under which Mr. Chen left the embassy. A senior U.S. official told reporters that among the commitments made by Chinese officials was that they would “investigate reported extra-legal activities committed by local Shandong authorities against Mr. Chen and his family.”

Ms. Clinton said that “making [China’s] commitments a reality is the next crucial task” and pledged that “the United States government and the American people are committed to remaining engaged with Mr. Chen and his family in the days, weeks and years ahead.”

Mr. Chen, who during the past year moved to New York to study at New York University, told us Thursday that, in his view, neither side has kept its word. […]

While Chen’s fears for his family appear to have been well-founded, worries that moving to the U.S. would doom him to irrelevance were not, according to Lijia Zhang, writing at The New York Times:

It happened to Wei Jingsheng, one of the most prominent Chinese dissidents, who moved to the United States in 1997. His calls for democracy once inspired so many in and outside of China. Not anymore.

[…] But on my recent trip to Chen Guangcheng’s hometown in rural Shandong, I saw that his spirit lives on — not only in the memories of people he has helped, many of whom have now become activists themselves, but also through Chen’s regular Internet contact with local activists. It’s a different world from when Wei Jingsheng went into exile.

[…] During my recent video call with Chen Guangcheng himself, he told me that he keeps in touch with people from all over the country. Before our conversation, he had been talking to a blind man from Inner Mongolia who runs a grocery store but also devotes much of his energy to helping other disabled people with their rights issues. Chen was planning to video-chat with a group of activists in Sichuan and give them his pitch about the importance of protecting their rights.

“How do people find you?” I asked. He replied with a laugh. “In this Internet age, if you are willing to be available, people can find you easily.”


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