Chen Guangcheng, the blind Chinese human rights activist and self-taught lawyer, is in limbo as Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and President Obama continue to fiddle with this human rights drama unfolding in China.
In 2005, Mr. Chen was arrested for exposing the brutal truth behind China’s one-child policy. He carefully documented the evidence of forced abortion policies by local family planning officials desperate to meet birth control quotas through late-term abortions and sterilizations. Since his arrest, he was imprisoned for four years and has endured beatings, intimidation, and illegal house arrest.
Then, on April 22, 2012, Mr. Chen escaped his captors and fled. He released a video tape on YouTube on April 26, revealing details of his illegal house detention, which included harassment of his children and brutal beatings of family members that resulted in broken bones. In the video, he expressed fears of retribution against his family over his escape.
It was confirmed on April 27, that Mr. Chen was under the protection of the U.S. Embassy in Beijing. He remained in the embassy until May 2, when it was reported he left “of his own volition” and indicated he wanted to stay in China. At that point, the story becomes muddled.
He was taken to a hospital to have his foot treated for injuries he sustained during his escape and thought a U.S. representative would remain with him at the hospital, but no one did. The State Department said the Chinese government had given assurances that it would treat Mr. Chen and his family humanely, and they would be allowed to move to another city, where Mr. Chen would go to law school.
Secretary Clinton said, “I am pleased that we were able to facilitate Chen Guangcheng’s stay and departure from the U.S. Embassy in a way that reflected his choices and our values.”
After being deserted by the U.S. embassy staff at the hospital, Mr. Chen changed his mind about staying in China. The Chinese government placed dozens of security officers outside his hospital room and prevented journalists and visitors from entering. In a phone interview with the Associated Press, Mr. Chen said he only agreed to the deal to leave the embassy after threats to his family were relayed to him. He was told that if he didn’t leave the embassy, the Chinese government would send his wife and children back to their home in Shandong – the home where they were held under illegal house arrest for 19 months.
Thus, it appears that the assurances of Mr. Chen’s safety and that of his family are questionable at best.
During her opening address at talks with the Chinese leaders, Secretary Clinton did not mention Mr. Chen but merely mentioned tersely that the “importance of human rights” would be part of the talks.
Now is the time for the Obama Administration to stand up to China, defend the rule of law, and denounce the myriad human rights abuses China perpetrates on its citizens, not the least of whom are the victims of their one-child policy. Forced abortions and sterilizations are monstrous violence against the human rights of women. Illegal house arrest and beatings of citizen activists are an affront to the rule of law and barbaric violations of basic civil liberties.
Will Secretary Clinton, speaking on behalf of the Obama Administration, stand up for individual freedom and human dignity? After Obama’s historic abandoning of Iranian and Syrian protestors, human rights activists around the world can only hold their breath and hope for change. The administration’s response to this challenge will provide them an opportunity to redress – at least partially – their previous nonfeasance and give the American electorate a clear test case of its fitness to be the stewards of American ideal of “liberty and justice for all.”