Chinese dissident Chen 'bitter' about way family treated


CHINESE RIGHTS activist Chen Guangcheng is optimistic about his future, but the “barefoot lawyer” is bitter about the way he and his family have been imprisoned and attacked over the past few years.

“I think I’m optimistic about the future,” said Mr Chen (40) speaking on his mobile phone from Chaoyang Hospital, with his ankle packed in plaster following an injury sustained during a daring flight from his home in Linyi in Shandong province.

His audacious escape from 19 months of extralegal house arrest – scaling walls, avoiding video surveillance and scores of hired thugs guarding his home – was an embarrassment for China, and triggered a diplomatic crisis in US-Sino relations.

“It was so difficult to escape, unbelievable. But I can express how I feel in one word: Bitter,” said the activist, who has been blind since infancy.

Mr Chen spent six days hiding in the United States embassy in Beijing and now plans to study in America, under a deal between Beijing and Washington. His wife and two young children are with him in the hospital in Beijing, waiting to join him on his journey to the US.

The self-taught legal activist came to prominence campaigning for farmers and disabled citizens. He exposed a campaign of forced abortions in Linyi, where officials were under pressure to meet family-planning goals.

Mr Chen said he was very concerned about his nephew, Chen Kegui, who has been charged with attempted homicide during a confrontation with officials after news of Mr Chen’s escape spread.

“Shandong is mad right now, they are desperate and capable of anything. And this was revenge. My nephew had to defend himself otherwise he could have died; it is reasonable for normal people to defend themselves,” said Mr Chen.

“I cannot walk properly and can’t do anything. The local authorities have also cracked down on lawyers trying to help him,” said the rights activist.

He has spoken to the US embassy every day, but was waiting for news of his passport application so he could leave the country.

Last week Mr Chen met with officials from the state office that deals with petitions, the State Bureau of Letters and Calls. He asked the officials who visited him to investigate the violent attacks on him and his family and also to ensure their safety.

He told them of his desire to go overseas to study. Moreover, he hoped they would help him pass on the message to the central government and that they would expedite the process of applications and references that he needs.

“They accepted my requests. They said they would have an investigation and see if what I said was true and that if there were illegal actions those carrying them out would be punished by law.”

In 2006, Mr Chen was sentenced to more than four years in prison on what he said were trumped-up traffic and public order charges. He was formally released in 2010 but remained under house arrest and his house was transformed into a private prison.

Mr Chen could not confirm who was behind the abuse he suffered, but he asked authorities to investigate Liu Jie, head of the public security bureau in Linyi, and Li Qun, former Communist Party boss of Linyi, whom Mr Chen accused of forced abortions, forced sterilisations and even abduction and physical abuse of relatives by government officials so that the Linyi government could meet a significantly lower birth rate quota. Mr Li now runs the port city of Qingdao, also in Shandong.

“I don’t know why my case became so famous, maybe because what they did to me was far too cruel . . . to a degree that people just could not bear.”

What if he cannot leave? “I can’t think of that. We shouldn’t make any assumptions, there are too many possibilities. We need to wait and see what happens,” said Mr Chen.