Chen on the Hill

by Greg Pfundstein

At 2:00PM today, Tuesday April 9, 2013, Congressman Chris Smith (R., N.J.), Chairman of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Africa, Global Health, Global Human Rights, and International Organizations, will preside over the first congressional hearing at which the Chinese dissident Chen Guangcheng will have an opportunity to testify on human rights in China. Almost one full year after his courageous escape from house arrest in China, his testimony is long overdue.

Chen arrived in New York on May 19th, 2012. Congressman Smith was there to meet him at Newark Airport, though efforts were made to prevent the famous pro-life stalwart from connecting with Chen upon his arrival. The blind dissident was brought to NYU where he has lived since in faculty housing.

Congressman Smith held three hearings in an effort to get Chen freed from house arrest in China and then safely transferred to the US, beginning November 1, 2011. During the hearing on May 3, 2012, witness Bob Fu was able to get Chen on the phone from a Beijing hospital. “I want to come to the U.S. to rest. I have not had a rest in 10 years,” Chen said. “I’m concerned most right now with the safety of my mother and brothers. I really want to know what’s going on with them.” Shortly after the dramatic phone call, a report at Foreign Policy’s blog The Cable referred to Congressman Smith as Chen’s best friend in Congress. Today’s hearing will be Congressman Smith’s first opportunity to speak with Chen publicly and on the record not only about his horrendous treatment at the hands of the Chinese government, but also about the Chinese government’s coercive one-child policy.

After a year in the U.S., Chen has spoken on many occasions about the lawlessness of a government which put him under house arrest for a year in advance of a trial from which his attorney was barred, after which he was imprisoned for four years for damaging property and disturbing traffic, and after which he was kept in house arrest with no end in sight until he climbed over a wall under cover of darkness. He has spoken with great passion and obvious concern for his family and friends who were left behind, especially those who helped him escape and his nephew Chen Kegui, who was charged with attempted homicide while he was defending his family against Chinese thugs with a kitchen knife the day after Chen Guangcheng’s escape.

Chen is right to be outraged by these abuses, and Americans are right to join him in calling for freedom and the rule of law in China. But Chen’s silence on China’s horrific abuses under the guise of its one-child policy has bordered on the bizarre. Chen Guangcheng defended many as a country lawyer in China, but it wasn’t until he took on China’s “family planning” juggernaut that he was thrown in jail on a pretense. At an event I attended with Chen last fall he was asked directly about the policy and his response seemed to indicate that something had been lost, or deliberately mislaid, in the translation. Anecdotes seem to indicate he may be under some pressure to avoid the topic, though it is not clear where the pressure originates. In a recent meeting in New York, Chen acknowledged the pressure quite directly.

Today’s hearing, however, should provide ample opportunity for Chen to go on the record about China’s one-child policy and the atrocious abuses of the family planning police. According to recently released statistics from the Chinese government, 330,000,000 abortions have been performed since 1971, less than ten years before the implementation of the one-child policy. To put that number in perspective, consider that total US population is under 312 million. This enormous number of abortions is not an indication of women’s liberation. According to a complaint submitted to the U.N. Commission on the Status of Women submitted by attorney Reggie Littlejohn of Women’s Rights without Frontiers, there is ample recent evidence that China’s policy is coercive, involving in some cases forced abortions and sterilizations.

Today Chen Guengchang’s “best friend in Congress” will have an opportunity to ask him about one of the most atrocious systematic violations of human rights on the globe. We should all welcome this development. As Reggie Littlejohn put it in her complaint to the U.N., “The One Child Policy causes more violence against women and girls than any other official policy on earth. It is China’s war on women. Any discussion of women’s rights, or human rights, would be a charade if forced abortion in China is not front and center. It does not matter whether you are pro-life or pro-choice on this issue. No one supports forced abortion, because it is not a choice.”

Greg Pfundstein is president of the Chiaroscuro Foundation

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