Chen Guangchen’s suffering
Chen Guangchen is the blind self taught lawyer and human rights activist who was jailed in China after exposing the systematic use of coercive, forced abortion and sterilisation to implement China’s one child policy.
In 2006 Time magazine named him as one of 100 most influential men in the world. One year earlier, Chen had been jailed for four years and three months for exposing the one child policy. He was tortured and denied medical treatment. When I met his lawyers in Beijing they told me that he had been put in a cell with eighteen other prisoners. Those inmates were told not to converse or make contact with Chen.
Chen was also denied medical treatment and for many months his wife was prevented from visiting him. If he had been willing to withdraw his complaints and repent, Chen could have secured early release, but this extraordinary principled and courageous man refused to be cowed or to recant. I told China’s human rights officials that one day Chen would be honoured as a national hero – a defender of women and human dignity.
Last September Chen was finally released from jail and his supporters greeted the news with relief. However, their happiness was diminished by a strictly enforced decision by the Shandong authorities to put his home out of bounds to visitors. No one was then permitted to speak to Chen or visit him. He and his wife have been confined to their quarters and only his seventy six year-old mother-in-law has been allowed to enter and leave, bringing occasional provisions.
That all changed when, last week, a video was smuggled out of his home. In the recording – which was secreted beyond China thanks to a Chinese official who is outraged by Chen’s treatment – Chen detailed his degrading treatment and appalling denial of his basic human rights. Referring to his transfer from the Shandong jail to his home he said:
“I was in a small prison and now I am in a larger prison.”
22 agents constantly monitored him and devices have been installed in adjacent properties to jam his mobile phone signal. Their home is under constant surveillance – by 66 security officials.
Once the local officials discovered the existence of the video and its broadcast on the internet they retaliated with barbaric vindictiveness – violating China’s laws and standards of human decency – besmirching China’s reputation. They punished Chen and his wife by beating them senseless. A local source told news agencies that “They cannot move from bed, and they have not been allowed to go to hospital.”
In Parliament last week I tabled questions to the British Government urging them to make representations on behalf of Chen and his family.
China is a huge country and it would be wrong to assume that the Chinese President, Hu Jintao, or senior officials approve of the barbarism of regional Communist Party officials. But, equally, if they now take no action against those responsible they will inevitably be tarred with the same brush.
And, while we must press for justice for Chen and his family we must also continue to express concern that public money from the U.K. has aided and abetted the heinous violations of human rights which Chen has set himself against.
That money has ended up in the coffers of the Chinese Population Association (CPA) via the International Planned Parenthood Federation and United Nations Population Fund – and, whilst those organisations claim not to support coercion, they are fully aware that the CPA is the agency which has been responsible for the one child policy. One of the most telling testimonies I have ever read came from Mrs.Gao Xiao Duan, who was one of the officials who ran a centre for forced abortions. She wept as she recalled when “a baby of nine months gestation” – born above the permitted quota “had poison injected into its skull and the child died and was thrown into a trash can.”
Amnesty International reported how another baby born, above the permitted quotas, was drowned at birth in Hebei Province; The Sunday Times reported a man tortured to death in Hunan after refusing to reveal the whereabouts of his pregnant wife; and, in 2005, when The Independent first reported Chen Guangcheng’s arrest, they said that some of the 120,000 women who were coerced into having abortions were nine months into their pregnancies. Newspapers also reported the case of Jin Yani, nine months pregnant when five officials pinned her to her bed and injected her with saline solution. The loss of blood nearly killed her – and, terrified, she went into hiding.
Chen’s wife, Mrs Yuan, once remarked: “I tell you, the darkness of the society is way beyond your imagination.”
Chinese people are some of the most cultivated people in the world and there is much about today’s China which fills me with deep admiration but the treatment of Chen and his wife and the behaviour of these provincial officials underlines the continuing challenge of matching extraordinary economic progress with the enhancement and protection of human rights.
Paradoxically, one of the consequences of the one child policy is that the Chinese economic miracle will be threatened by the policy’s distortion of the population – with increasingly numbers of elderly people without younger people to support them and a population where sex selection has led to the birth of 117 boys for every 100 girls – more than 35 million more males than females. Some of the other consequences are the trafficking of girls and most shockingly of all, according to The World Health Organisation, the highest level of female suicides in the world.
As the world has largely remained indifferent to the excesses of the one child policy Chen has been a brave and lonely voice. I once remarked that it had taken a blind man to see what we refused to see – the wholesale destruction of human life and the worst violation of women’s rights and some of the worst violence against women anywhere in the world.
At the end of the You Tube video which has led to his latest suffering Chen says “We the sons and daughters of our great nation should have the courage to defeat our own fears.” Chen would have had a soul-mate in Dietrich Bonhoeffer, imprisoned and executed on Hitler’s orders, and who wrote that:
“The most important question for the future is how we can find a basis for human life together, what spiritual laws we accept as the foundation of a meaningful human life.”
That will certainly be true in China –but what he went on to say has relevance to the rest of us:
“We have been the silent witnesses of evil deeds. What we shall need is not geniuses, or cynics, or misanthropes, or clever tacticians, but plain, honest, straightforward men.”
And surely, in the life of Chen Guangchen we have a plain, honest and straightforward man – one who, like Bonhoeffer, has suffered for speaking out against evil and for what is right.
Chen’s You Tube Video can be watched at http://www.chinaaid.org/2011/02/exclusive-video-shows-ill-treatment.html?utm_source=BP_recent