A little over a year ago, China’s heroic blind lawyer, Chen Guangcheng, escaped from house arrest, eventually fleeing to the United States with his wife and child. The Chinese government is now retaliating against the members of his family who remain in China.
This morning, Chen’s elder brother, Chen Guangfu, was riding his motor bike about two miles away from his house. Suddenly, a black car with no license plates came to an abrupt halt in front of him, forcing Guangfu to stop. Then two young men dressed in black jumped out and began assaulting Guangfu, hitting him in the head and chest, then kicking him. When they had finished beating him, they ruined his motor bike, then drove away.
Guangfu called the police, and as they were questioning him about the incident, he saw the car and pointed it out, says Bob Fu, the president of ChinaAid and a friend of Chen Guangchen. The police did nothing, Fu says — no surprise, as such incidents are doubtless government-instigated.
Chen Guangfu told the South China Morning Post that “I don’t know whether they are trying to end my life,” adding that “they can’t do anything about Guangcheng, so they are taking revenge on me.”
This is not an isolated instance, either. Chen’s nephew, Chen Kegui, was sentenced to 39 months in prison after he defended himself with a knife, wounding authorities who raided his house last year after they’d discovered Chen’s escape. Kegui was recently diagnosed with acute appendicitis, but he’s being refused medical treatment beyond antibiotics, which potentially endangers his life. Kegui has also suffered beatings during his time in prison, his father has reported.
And since late April, thugs have assembled late at night, throwing rocks, bricks, and beer bottles at the home of Chen’s elder brother. They’ve also hurled dead chicken and ducks (at a time when dozens of Chinese have reportedly died from bird flu) and paper money (traditionally burnt for the dead). Finally, posters have been distributed near Chen’s family members calling him a traitor, a collaborator with the U.S. and Japan, and a supporter of Taiwanese and Tibetan independence.
The irony, of course, is that Chen first found himself on the wrong side of the government while attempting to uphold China’s own laws. A self-taught lawyer, he took on cases others feared to touch, fighting for the rights of the disabled and for victims of forced abortions and sterilizations. But he did so within China’s existing legal framework, and the fact that this made him a political target says as much about Beijing as it does about Chen’s courage.
Secretary of State John Kerry, Deputy Secretary of State Bill Burns, and Ambassador Gary Locke have reportedly brought up the Chen family’s treatment in official talks.
“That’s a positive step taken by the State Department on the side,” Fu says. “But the White House has still been largely silent, has not spoken or issued a statement about what’s going on to Chen’s family members. That’s not, I think, a good sign.”
Speaking at the New York City Bar Association in February, Chen Guangcheng said: “When an injustice happens, we cannot worry about the adverse consequences of speaking out.” The price of his moral stand is rising by the day.