China keeps up pressure on Chen’s family

While the blind Chinese rights activist Chen Guangcheng on Sunday enjoyed his first hours in New York after years of jail and detention, relatives and supporters back home remained locked down by security authorities.

Chen’s escape last month from 19 months of detention in his home village in eastern China and his six-day stay in the US embassy in Beijing exposed embarrassing gaps in the web of security that the ruling Communist Party uses to stifle dissent.

He plans a break from that pressure after his arrival in the United States to take up a fellowship at New York University.

But the continued pressure on Chen’s family in Shandong province and on activists who supported him shows that his flight does not mean China will relax its grip on dissent.

“There won’t be any big changes for us now that Chen Guangcheng has left. There are still many reasons to keep up control and stability preservation,” Jiang Tianyong, a Beijing human rights lawyer, said in a telephone interview, referring to the Communist Party’s terms for controlling dissidents.

Jiang, a long-time campaigner for Chen’s freedom, said he remained under house arrest, despite police officers’ earlier promises that he would be released after Chen left.

“I still don’t know when they’re going to let up,” Jiang said of the police restrictions. “This is no way forward, but especially with the 18th party congress, the high pressure will probably only grow, not decrease.”

The Communist Party will anoint a new leadership at its congress this year, one of a series of dates on China’s political calendar when authorities tighten security against activists to portray an image of stability and unity.

The Foreign Ministry has said that Chen was a “free citizen” after his release from jail in 2010. But the walls, security cameras and guards that penned him inside his home and kept supporters out reflect the pervasive informal controls used to bottle up dissent.

Clampdown continues
Chen’s nephew, Chen Kegui, remains in police detention in Shandong, facing charges of attempted homicide after a struggle with guards following the dissident’s escape. He has not been allowed to meet lawyers appointed by his family.

Before his departure on Saturday, Chen said his elder brother, Chen Guangfu, was “under restrictions”. Shandong officials, he said, had said they would increase Chen Kegui’s sentence if Chen Guangfu takes interviews.

He said his brother had been beaten “around the 27th or 28th of April. They hooded him, slapped him and used shoes to slap his feet.” He also said the number of guards had been increased in his village.

A supporter in Shandong who campaigned for the dissident’s release said officials there were unlikely to ease restrictions.

“The Communist Party doesn’t want to set a precedent over this case by easing up after a dissident has escaped detention,” said Sun Wenguang, a retired professor.

Sun, who lives in the provincial capital Jinan and spoke to Reuters by phone, said he was being followed and monitored 24 hours a day by security police and receiving harassing phone calls deep in the night.

Other supporters remain out of reach, including Guo Yushan, a researcher in Beijing who helped Chen flee from Shandong to Beijing. He has been told not to speak to reporters.

Chen (40) taught himself law and was a leading figure in China’s “rights defence” movement, which has sought to use litigation and publicity to expand citizens’ rights and freedoms. He was jailed for four years from 2006 on what he and his supporters said were false charges.

Although Chen is more popular than most other dissidents, tight media controls have ensured that few in China know of him.

China has blocked search results of Chen’s name on Sina Weibo, a popular microblogging platform, and censors rapidly delete any references to him in postings.

These are unprecedented times, and the role of media to tell and record the story of South Africa as it develops is more important than ever. But it comes at a cost. Advertisers are cancelling campaigns, and our live events have come to an abrupt halt. Our income has been slashed.

The Mail & Guardian is a proud news publisher with roots stretching back 35 years. We’ve survived thanks to the support of our readers, we will need you to help us get through this.

To help us ensure another 35 future years of fiercely independent journalism, please subscribe.


L’Oréal workers demand a shutdown of local plant, citing Covid-19...

The French cosmetics company’s Midrand plant has recorded 16 Covid-19 cases in two weeks

Protective equipment for schools in KwaZulu-Natal goes ‘missing’

Without protective equipment, schools in uMlazi, Pinetown and Zululand won’t meet the already delayed deadline for reopening

The statue of Louis XVI should remain forever handless

A statue of the French king in Louisville, Kentucky was damaged during the protests against police killings. It should not be repaired

Press Releases

Empowering his people to unleash their potential

'Being registered as an AGA(SA) means you are capable of engineering an idea and turning it into money,' says Raymond Mayekisa

What is an AGA(SA) and AT(SA) and why do they matter?

If your company has these qualified professionals it will help improve efficiencies and accelerate progress by assisting your organisation to perform better

Mining company uses rich seam of technology to gear up for Covid-19

Itec Direct technology provides instant temperature screening of staff returniing to the workplace with no human contact

Covid-19 and Back to School Webinar

If our educators can take care of themselves, they can take care of the children they teach

5G technology is the future

Besides a healthcare problem Covid-19 is also a data issue and 5G technology, with its lightning speed, can help to curb its spread

JTI off to court for tobacco ban: Government not listening to industry or consumers

The tobacco ban places 109 000 jobs and 179 000 wholesalers and retailers at risk — including the livelihood of emerging farmers

Holistic Financial Planning for Professionals Webinar

Our lives are constantly in flux, so it makes sense that your financial planning must be reviewed frequently — preferably on an annual basis

Undeterred by Covid-19 pandemic, China and Africa hold hands, building a community of a shared future for mankind

It is clear that building a community with a shared future for all mankind has become a more pressing task than ever before

The best local and international journalism

handpicked and in your inbox every weekday