China’s communist authorities have launched a fierce crackdown on human rights activists and legal advocates in response to a campaign in support of Chen Guangcheng (left), the blind, self-taught “barefoot lawyer.”
The authorities are “mobilizing to choke a resurgence of activism” supporting Chen and persecuting lawyers who take on politically-sensitive cases.
He was jailed on spurious charges in 2006 after exposing family planning officials’ complicity in forcing several thousand women to undergo sterilization or late-term abortions in eastern China’s Shandong province.
Chen, who has been under house arrest since his release from prison, won international recognition as one of a new generation of barefoot lawyers defending the rights of the disabled, victims of the one-child policy and citizens whose property had been illegally expropriated.
As this New York Times report notes:
Chen Guangcheng is officially a free man but it is hard to imagine a life more constrained. One of the country’s most prominent rights defenders, Mr. Chen is confined to his home 24 hours a day by security agents and hired peasant men armed with sticks, bricks and walkie-talkies. Visitors who try to see him are physically repulsed and sometimes beaten. Blinding floodlights illuminate his stone farmhouse at night.
There is also growing concern over the fate of Tang Jitian, detained by police in Beijing this week following a strategy meeting with fellow lawyers to discuss how they could support Chen.
More than two days after police officers forced open the door to his Beijing home and dragged him away, human rights lawyer Tang Jitian remains missing. Officials have admitted he is in police custody, according to Chinese Human Rights Defenders, but they refuse to disclose his whereabouts.
“We are alarmed at the Chinese government’s increasing use of extralegal measures, such as enforced or involuntary disappearances, against activists,” said Renee Xia, CHRD’s International Director. “Tang Jitian’s disappearance brings to mind other individuals who are currently missing, and raises concerns over the growing power of the police.”
Tang’s disappearance is further confirmation of a tactical shift by the regime as it increasinly resorts to extra-judicial methods, notes Teng Biao, a lecturer at China University of Politics and Law:
…. security officials were partly responding to the surge in popular activism that, despite their best efforts at censorship, manages to bubble up through the Internet. Questioning and arresting the growing ranks of well-educated and wired activists, he said, can be a bureaucratic headache for those charged with maintaining internal security. Instead they resort to stealth.
“There are too many people doing too many different things and the authorities know if they use so-called legal methods, it will only provoke a greater domestic backlash and more international pressure,” he said.
Human Rights in China, a leading rights monitor, reports that police and plain-clothes thugs have openly assaulted lawyers and human rights activists.
“This barbaric behaviour isn’t just happening in remote places like Dongshigu village [in Linyi, Shandong province – the home town of Chen Guangcheng], but in Beijing, the nation’s capital and supposedly the best-governed area,” the group reports. “Here the police are acting like bandits, and there is simply no guarantee of personal safety whatsoever for citizens.”
“I was in a small prison and now I am in a larger prison,” Chen said in the film.
The US is “concerned” by reports that Chen and his family are unable to leave their home to seek medical treatment.
“We urge the Chinese government to immediately restore the personal liberties, including freedom of movement, of Chen and his family,” a US official said this week.
The government’s crackdown is not due to nervousness about events in the Middle East, says Teng Biao, a friend of jailed Nobel laureate Liu Xiaobo.
“Ordinary people do not really care what happens in other countries,” he says. “A lot of people are brainwashed and are not so interested in political topics.”
The 80,000-90,000 “mass protests” each year are concerned with specific grievances over property rights, corruption, and wages rather than demands for democracy or political reform.