Chinese activist lawyer, Chen Guangcheng, has been confined to his home since being released from prison five months ago.
BEIJING – Chen Guangcheng may be blind, but he has seen first-hand the draconian steps security agents in China will take to thwart suspected challenges to the state.
Now he wants you to see as well.
The 39-year-old self-taught lawyer and social activist has become an international cause célèbre as of late due to the news coverage of foreign journalists’ recent attempts to enter his village and interview him.
Chen found himself at odds with the government when he filed a lawsuit in 2006 on behalf of residents of his hometown, Linyi, over the city’s practice of forced abortions and sterilizations, a municipal policy that runs counter to national regulations.
City officials were accused of forced sterilizations or abortions on as many as 7,000 residents and torturing relatives of people who had escaped such measures.
Chen has been supposedly free after a four-year prison term on what human rights activists have called trumped-up charges of “intentional damage of public property” and “gathering people to block traffic.” But reporters arriving at Linyi in Shandong province this week were blocked from entering and even had rocks thrown at them.
The physical confrontations between foreign press and (plainclothes) security officers who refused to identify themselves come on the heels of reports that Chen and his wife were subjected last week to beatings so severe that they were unable to get up from their bed. The attack is believed to have been ordered by state security officials angry over a secret video smuggled out from his home, documenting the Chen family’s life under constant, 24-hour surveillance. The video made its way to the U.S., where it was posted on the Internet by China Aid, an American Christian human rights group.
"I was in a small prison, and now I am in a larger prison," says Chen to the camera in the hour-long video, which shows security agents peering over walls into the family’s home. Chen later notes that he and his family are monitored by three shifts of security, each one consisting of more than 20 agents.
In a bid to completely isolate him from the world, security agents have confiscated Chen’s phone, and he has no access to the Internet. Jamming equipment has been installed around his home to block mobile signals, while friends and villagers who attempt to visit Chen and his family are warned that he is a traitor and that they may be charged as accomplices to his crime.
Security even drove 60 miles to detain Chen’s brother when they discovered he had purchased a SIM card for his phone.
The video is chilling in its telling of life under home detention despite the fact Chen is officially free, and it's another reminder of the fine line activists walk while agitating for change in China. While the Chinese government has been silent on Chen’s status, Secretary of State Hilary Clinton just last month cited his case while calling on Beijing to improve its human rights record.