CHRD Calls on US and Chinese Leaders to Keep Promise to Protect Chen and Family

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(CHRD, May 3, 2012) — On the basis of a promise from the Chinese government to protect blind activist Chen Guangcheng (陈光), US diplomats hastily delivered Chen from the US Embassy in Beijing to a local hospital designated by Chinese officials on May 2. Six days after Chen reached the embassy to seek sanctuary, his fate is now back in the hands of the very government that has been complicit in disappearing, detaining, and assaulting him over the past seven years, including, most brutally, from the time he was placed under house arrest in September of 2010 until his daring escape on April 22.


“While we welcome Chen’s reunion with his wife and children at Chaoyang Hospital, we are seriously concerned for their safety,” said Renee Xia, international director of CHRD. “The activist couple has reportedly said they now wish to leave China after learning about the fuller picture, and the US government should visit them immediately and seek clarity about their wish.”


CHRD asks the US government to takes seriously Chen’s claim from the hospital that he did not have had full access to information or consultation with his supporters in China during his stay at the US Embassy, which would have been necessary for him to make a decision truly of his own accord, as well as his claim that the US Embassy urged him to leave the compound. Chen’s wife has also alleged that local authorities in Shandong mistreated her and threatened to beat her to death if her husband remained in the embassy. Under these circumstances, Chen has now reportedly expressed an interest in leaving China with his family as the only way for them to live safely.


The deal made over Chen Guangcheng’s fate is very tenuous. The US government may seem to have taken the Chinese government’s unenforceable promises at face value, in what appears to be a bit of rush to smooth out things for this week’s US-China Strategic and Economic Dialogue being held in Beijing.


“The Chinese government’s track record over years of persecuting Chen and his family betray any sense of optimism that authorities will honor promises to look after their welfare,” said Ms Xia.


During the family’s unlawful detention at their home in Linyi City in Shandong, the Chinese government had all along maintained, when pressed by foreign government and human rights bodies, that Chen was “free” and living “a normal life at home.” Regardless of whether Chen’s illegal house arrest was ordered by central authorities, they certainly were aware of—and thus tacitly condoned—the retaliation against activists, journalists, and others who were routinely harassed, beaten, and detained for trying to visit Chen. They also no doubt have taken significant notice of online advocacy campaigns dedicated to seeking freedom for Chen and his family.


No meaningful measures have been put in place to ensure that the Chinese government would keep its side of the bargain; Chen is being effectively handed over to Chinese authorities without reasons to believe that he and his family will be treated humanely and fairly. Though means of enforcement may be hard to attain, US officials could have tried to hold out longer to explore other options and to provide Chen sufficient time to consult supporters, including Chinese lawyers and activists close to him, and consider all potential choices and their various ramifications. According to US State Department spokesperson Victoria Nuland, “U.S. interlocutors did make clear that if Chen elected to stay in the Embassy, Chinese officials had indicated to us that his family would be returned to Shandong, and they would lose their opportunity to negotiate for reunification.” Even if this is case, the US could still have tried at least to negotiate for Chen’s family to join him for medical treatment abroad if he elected to do so, rather than presenting him with the stark choices of leaving the country alone or staying in China with his family.


According to US diplomats, their handling of the dilemma represents “a new model” for human rights in the 21st century—one purported to go beyond government-to-government discussions on rights violations to instead involve NGOs, activists, and the press in monitoring situations like Chen’s and the Chinese government’s extent of delivery on its promises. It is important to point out, however, that the deal on Chen Guangcheng was negotiated between the US and Chinese governments alone. Concerned activists and others in civil society will of course continue their monitoring as before, but when Chinese authorities act on bad faith, as they have repeatedly done in similar cases, the fact is that the brokered agreement does not make room for any more effective tools for monitoring and responding to rights abuses of Chen and his family. It is very difficult to see this apparent fall-back to the status quo in handling the case of Chen Guangcheng as the birth of a “new model” in promoting human rights in China.


US officials should visit Chen at Chaoyang Hospital immediately and speak with him and his wife about their wish to leave China. CHRD calls on the US and Chinese governments to facilitate Chen and his family’s exit from China on humanitarian grounds if he prefers to leave the country of his free will.


If, after speaking with Chen, he still wants to stay in China, the US should consult with concerned Chinese activists and lawyers, NGOs, and other civil society actors to come up with a monitoring and response plan with concrete steps for effective follow-up of Chen’s situation and the extent to which Chinese authorities will keep the promises.


CHRD also calls on the US government to press the Chinese authorities for the whereabouts of Chen’s recently detained relatives in Shandong Province, and the supporter He Peirong (何培), who is believed to be in police custody after assisting in Chen’s escape.


Media Contacts
Renee Xia, International Director,
+852 8191 6937 or +1 240 374 8937,

Wang Songlian, Research Coordinator,
+852 8191 1660,

May 3, 2012

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