Chen Guangcheng born on November 12, 1971. He is a blind activist in the People’s Republic of China at the forefront of a growing civil rights movement who drew international attention to human rights issues in rural areas. He was placed under house arrest from September 2005 to March 2006 after talking to Time magazine about the forced abortion cases he investigated in Linyi County, Shandong. Authorities formally arrested him in June 2006 for destruction of property and assembling a crowd to disrupt traffic.
His trial was scheduled for July 17, 2006 but authorities delayed the trial because Chen supporters gathered at the court house. With only a few days notice, officials announced his trial would begin on August 18, 2006. On the eve of his trial, all three of his lawyers were detained. None of them were allowed in the courtroom. Authorities appointed their own public defender who had not read the file prior to trial and did little to protect his client. The trial lasted just two hours. On 24 August 2006, Chen was sentenced to four years and three months for “damaging property and organising a mob to disturb traffic”.
Due to a fever, he lost his sight at an early age. Chen does not have a law degree because the blind were kept from colleges in China. Nonetheless, he managed to audit in law classes and learned enough to aid his fellow villagers when they sought his assistance.
Due to his disability and various other reasons, he did not start his formal education until after he turned 18. He graduated from the Nanjing Chinese Medicine University with a major in Acupuncture. As a medical practitioner, his main interest is in social welfare, and he is particularly concerned about the rights of people with or without disabilities. He has fought for the right of blind people in rural communities to be exempted from agricultural tax (as a matter of fact, today farmers are no longer required to pay agricultural tax). He has also fought hard for blind people in rural areas to enjoy the same free public transportation as those who live in the cities.
In 2005, Chen exposed harsh illegal measures by local authorities when enforcing the one-child policy in Linyi, Shandong province, where family planning officials from Linyi municipal authorities forced thousands of people to undergo sterilization or to abort pregnancies. Chinese national regulations prohibit such brutal measures. The officials were also accused of detaining and torturing relatives of people who had escaped from the forced measures.
Chen filed a class-action lawsuit on the women’s behalf against Linyi officials and drew attention to the plight of the villagers. He also traveled to Beijing in June 2005 to seek redress. Although the suit he filed was rejected, the incident was publicised on the Internet and by the Time magazine who interviewed Chen. This prompted the National Population and Family Planning Commission to launch an investigation in August 2005. A month later, the Commission announced that several Linyi officials were detained.
Detention and trial
However, Linyi authorities placed Chen under house arrest in September 2005. Radio Free Asia reported that Chen was beaten up during a clash between villagers and officials. Three lawyers who were attempting to meet Chen were also beaten by unidentified men.
According to a report by the Washington Post, a campaign was launched by local officials to portray Chen as working for “foreign anti-China forces” and that he received foreign funding. Chinese authorities often use this rhetoric to sway public opinion in similar cases even though it is not often true.
According to an article in Time by Hannah Beech, “Chen Guangcheng, A Blind Man with Legal Vision,” Chen met with Time reporters to discuss the forced abortion cases when he thought authorities would take action. “Yet three hours after meeting with TIME in Beijing to discuss the issue, Chen was shoved into an unmarked vehicle by public-security agents from his hometown. They bundled him back to his village, where he was held under house arrest for months. Despite the commission’s vow, only one official has been detained. Meanwhile, thugs routinely showed up at Chen’s home to rough him up.” In April, Time named Chen one of the 100 people most influential in shaping our world.
Chen was removed from his house in March 2006 and was formally detained in June 2006 by Yinan county official. He was scheduled to stand trial on July 17, 2006 on charges of destruction of property and assembling a crowd to disrupt traffic. But this was delayed at the request of the prosecution. According to Radio Free Asia and Chinese Rights Defenders (CRD), a network of Chinese citizens who are committed to safeguarding rights and their international volunteer supporters, prosecution delayed the trial because a crowd of Chen supporters gathered outside the courthouse. With only a few days notice, authorities rescheduled Chen’s trial for August 18, 2006.
On the eve of his trial, all three of his lawyers were detained by Yinan police. Two were released after being questioned and their phones confiscated. Xu Zhiyong of the Yitong Law Firm, perhaps the lawyer with the most knowledge of the forced abortion cases Chen was working on, was detained after authorities accused him of stealing a man’s wallet. He was not released until the trial concluded on the 18th. None of Chen’s lawyers were allowed in the courtroom for the trial. Only Chen’s brothers were allowed inside. Not even Chen’s wife was allowed to hear proceedings. Instead, authorities appointed their own public defender for Chen just before the trial began. As a result, the defender had not even read the case report before he walked into the courtroom. The defender did little to help his new client’s case and did not raise any objection to the proceedings or to any of the evidence presented, despite Chen’s protest in the court. The trial lasted just two hours. On 24 August 2006, Chen was sentenced to four years and three months for “damaging property and organising a mob to disturb traffic”.
On November 30, 2006, Yinan County court in Shandong province upheld its decision to sentence blind activist Chen Guangcheng to more than four years in prison after he documented claims of forced abortions, the activist’s brother said.
The decision was issued in a 30-minute session, where no witnesses or evidence were presented, said Chen Guangfu, the only family member allowed to be present during the proceedings.
On January 12, 2007, the Linyi Intermediate Court in Shandong Province rejected Chen’s final appeal. The same court had overturned his original conviction in December 2006 citing lack of evidence. However, Chen was convicted in a second trial on identical charges and given an identical sentence by the Yinan court.
Ramon Magsaysay Award
One of the awardees for emergent leadership, Chen Guangcheng has yet to receive the Ramon Magsaysay Award as he is currently in prison. His wife, Yuan Weijing, was en route to Manila to receive the award on her husband’s behalf but was prevented from boarding the plane. 256 Asians have received it since 1957. Each awardee will receive a certificate, a medallion and an undisclosed cash prize. The award, often called the “Asian Nobel Award”, was bestowed for “his irrepressible passion for justice in leading ordinary Chinese citizens to assert their legitimate rights under the law.” His family and human rights groups in China called on the United Nations human rights bodies, the international community, the media, and other governments to study the case and lobby for Chen. Chen Guangcheng’s story caught global attention. On April 30, 2006, he was in Time Magazine’s list of “2006’s Top 100 People Who Shape Our World” in the category of “Heroes and Pioneers.”
On August 24, 2007, Hu Jia (an AIDS advocate, under house arrest for months) reported that Yuan Weijing’s passport and telephone were sequestered by Chinese authorities on her attempt to pass the security cordon at the Beijing airport to fly to the Philippines and attend the Magsaysay Award ceremony, to pick up the prize for husband, Chen Guangcheng.
Letter from Yuan Weijing (wife): Lest we Forget: October 15 is the International Day for the Blind.
My husband is completely blind. According to Chinese law, a disabled person like him should never receive a custodial sentence, because he is incapable of taking care of himself. Nevertheless, the government rejected our lawyer’s application for my husband to serve his sentence out of jail. Since then, my husband has been serving his prison terms at a prison in Linyi of Shandong Province. His life in prison has been difficult from the start. He is deprived of even the most basic rights of an inmate to read books and newspapers because Braille books are not available in prison, and our family’s effort to supply him with books has been met with objections. My husband then went on a hunger strike to protest against being violently beaten up by six or seven inmates. Since late July 2008, he has been suffering from diarrhoea. We have made several requests for him to be properly examined and treated. However, the prison is unwilling to pay for his medical expenses because his disability has prevented him from working and from contributing financially to the prison, as other inmates are required to do. We have also made several requests for him to be temporarily released so that he can seek medical treatment. But we are still waiting for a reply.
As Chen Guangcheng’s wife, I have been subjected to unlawful imprisonment. It has been more than four years now since September 2005 that the local government has placed me under 24 hours round the clock surveillance. Not only have I lost my freedom, on several occasions I was even physically and verbally assaulted by the guards. Some friends, including reporters and writers, were beaten up when they made an attempts to visit me. As I am writing this letter, 12 guards are conducting 24 hours round the clock surveillance around my house. The last time I visited my husband was in December 2008. Even Guangcheng’s other relatives have been deprived of the right to a monthly visit. No visitor has been allowed since April 2009. The humiliation and suffering that I have endured are beyond words. And I am also mindful that this letter should not be too long.
Presently, I am very worried about my husband’s health. He is now applying his medical knowledge every day to try to lessen the pain that he is suffering. As the International Day for the Blind is approaching, I earnestly hope that those in the World Blind Union will extend their helping hands to ensure that my husband’s legal rights to health and to proper medical treatment will be protected. Once again, I would like to express my sincere thanks to you all for your help.