Blind Activist Appeals to U.S. Over China’s Human-Rights Abuses

The human-rights lawyer attracted the anger of Chinese authorities when he spoke out against China’s one-child policy.

House Speaker John Boehner greets Chen Guangcheng.
House Speaker John Boehner greets Chen Guangcheng. (photo: Bryant Avondoglio via (CC BY-NC 2.0))

WASHINGTON — Blind Chinese human-rights activist and lawyer Chen Guangcheng criticized China for its human-rights abuses and asked that the United States holds the foreign country responsible for its actions.

During April 9 testimony before a U.S. House subcommittee, Chen told legislators that “we cannot continue to tolerate the Chinese Communist authorities continuing to go back on their words and deceiving the international community at will.”

Through a translator, the activist described the persecution he suffered at the hands of the Chinese government for litigating against its widespread human-rights abuses.

Blinded by a serious illness when he was young, Chen is a self-educated human-rights attorney who spoke out against China’s one-child policy and the coerced abortions and sterilizations that are often used to enforce it. His work attracted the anger of Chinese authorities.

Chen spent more than four years in prison and was subsequently placed under house arrest in September 2010. Both he and his family were held without formal charges, endured violent assaults and were refused medical treatment.

In April 2012, Chen escaped from house arrest and fled to the U.S. Embassy in Beijing. He has since moved to the United States.

Since Chen’s escape and immigration to the U.S., several of Chen’s family members have been imprisoned and held under house arrest under false charges, and authorities have tried to manipulate his family into cooperating with the Chinese government under threats of harsher sentencing and continued imprisonment.

During his testimony, Chen asked that the U.S. government “formally obtain from the relevant departments of the administrative authorities — and publish — the written and oral diplomatic agreements between China and the United States with regard to this incident of mine, including my letter to Premier Wen Jiabao that I wrote while I was in the U.S. Embassy.”

He also asked “the U.S. government to solemnly demand that the Chinese Communist leaders do as they promised,” in prosecuting Chinese officials who violated their own laws in imprisoning him.

The activist also implored U.S. officials to hold China to its commitment to protect his family.

Rep. Chris Smith, R- N.J., chair of the U.S. House Subcommittee on Africa, Global Health and Global Human Rights, spoke on Chen’s case and other Chinese human-rights abuses.

Smith commended Chen for his “brilliant mind, indomitable spirit and unimaginable courage,” for his work to end forced abortion, “deemed a crime against humanity at the Nuremberg Nazi War Crimes Tribunal, and for his attempts to help many to see that the rule of just and compassionate law wasn’t just for the privileged few, but for everyone.”

“It took a blind man to really see the injustice of a population-control program that makes most brothers and sisters illegal and to hear the desperate cries of Chinese women,” Smith said.

“It took a blind man, the great Chen Guangcheng, to open the eyes of a blind world to these human-rights violations systematically inflicted on Chinese women.”

Smith also introduced the work of “another brave extraordinary hero,” Gao Zhisheng, whose testimony was later given by his wife, Geng He.

“Mr. Gao is the quintessential example of a human-rights defender,” Smith said, introducing Gao’s work against religious persecution in China.

For his work, Gao was charged with “inciting subversion” and placed under house arrest.

Gao has also sent letters to the U.S. Congress, calling “China’s birth-control policy the largest genocide in the history of mankind” and decrying other human-rights abuses. For this, Gao has been detained and tortured for more than 16 months.