Universe Column for August 13th 2006
by David Alton
A few months ago I wrote about a brave Chinese lawyer who had been fighting to stop the widespread forced abortion and sterilisation of women in the province where he lives. Since then Human Rights Watch have valiantly campaigned on his behalf and it is important that worldwide they are given great support. On the day before Parliament rose for the summer recess I tabled further questions asking what our own government is doing to make representations about his fate.
Human Rights Watch have called on the Chinese authorities to immediately release Chen Guangcheng, a blind lawyer persecuted for exposing official abuses of China’s one child policy.
Since his arrest a year ago Chen has been subject to physical abuse by police. Local officials have repeatedly interfered with attempts by Chen’s legal team to interview witnesses and gather evidence. Instead of investigating Chen’s allegations of abuses the Chinese authorities have charged him with intent to damage public property and inciting others to join him to disrupt traffic. It’s the usual attempt to intimidate and silence anyone who raises a protest against the inhumane and grotesque policies pursued by the Communist regime.
“When Chen tried to make proper use of China’s legal system, the response wasn’t due process,” said Sophie Richardson, deputy director of the Asia division of Human Rights Watch. “It was house arrest, physical abuse, and then ‘disappearance’ by local authorities. His case is a textbook example of how little the rule of law really means in China.”
The chronology of events leading to Chen’s incarceration began in March 2005 when he learned from villagers that officials in Linyi, a city in Shandong province, had subjected thousands of people trying to evade restrictive population control laws to late-term forced abortions, midnight raids, beatings and compulsory sterilization. Chen then began his own investigation into the allegations. In June 2005, he filed a class-action lawsuit, and then travelled to Beijing to discuss the case with legal scholars, lawyers and foreign journalists. Soon after, the lawsuit was rejected.
Then, on August 12, 2005, local officials imprisoned Chen and his immediate family in their home and shut off all outside communication. According to Human Rights Watch they were detained there for seven months. Chen did manage to escape in September, but was apprehended in Beijing and returned to Linyi. When he tried again to escape in October, local authorities failed to protect him against beatings by civilians apparently working in connection with the police to help enforce his isolation.
On March 11, 2006, Yinan County police officers arranged for Chen to disappear for three months. It was not until June 11, 2006, that officials acknowledged he had been formally detained in the Yinan County Detention Centre. On June 21, the Yinan County People’s Procuratorate approved Chen’s arrest.
That same day, Chen’s lawyers, Li Jinsong and Zhang Lihui, were able to visit him, but from then on, authorities escalated the pressure to deny access to defence witnesses and materials for all the lawyers and activists involved. Next, police officers took lawyer Li in for questioning. Unknown assailants beat three other lawyers defending villagers jailed for supporting Chen. Police officers first looked on as the cameras of the villagers’ lawyers were smashed, then took them in for questioning.
When Li Jinsong and Li Subin, another member of Chen’s legal team, tried to visit Chen’s wife on June 23, they were stopped and beaten by guards. The following day, all the lawyers involved returned to Beijing. Li Jinsong and Li Subin tried returning to Shandong on June 27, only to be harassed again while the police again stood by. Some 20 men overturned the lawyers’ car and police took Li Jinsong in for questioning once again.
At the time of writing this Chen was due to appear in Court again.
Instead of denying him access to legal representation; instead of harassment and intimidation; instead of incarceration and imprisonment…China should be applauding the integrity and bravery of a man who has exposed inhuman acts.
In parenthesis it might also be worth adding that the actions of Human Rights Watch in campaigning for Chen contrast markedly with the politically-correct gesture politics of Amnesty International who are preoccupied with proposals to use their once illustrious and admirable organisation to campaign for abortion “rights.”