BEIJING (AP) — Since blind activist Chen Guangcheng was being held under illegal house arrest by local Chinese officials, his only offense in escaping from his rural home has been to embarrass his captors. Even police in Beijing seem to acknowledge this, saying he broke no laws, according to his supporters.
Chen, a campaigner who exposed forced abortions and other abuses, made a surprising escape from house arrest, through fields and forest, more than a week ago to the presumed custody of U.S. diplomats. Security forces and officials have reacted angrily, detaining several of his supporters for questioning, including Beijing-based activist and Chen’s friend, Hu Jia.
However, Hu said Tuesday that the two police officers who questioned him in Beijing acknowledged that Chen, as well as two other activists who helped him flee his guarded farmhouse in eastern China, did not act illegally.
“They are all free citizens,” Hu quoting the police officers as saying. “For them to come to Beijing and so on, there is nothing illegal about it. They are free to do so. They did not do anything wrong, they have no legal trouble. We just want to understand the situation and verify it.”
Beijing police had no immediate response to a faxed request for comment.
Hu was questioned for 24 hours over the weekend. One of the two supporters who was detained after helping Chen flee, Guo Yushan, was released Monday. Guo is a Beijing scholar and rights advocate who hosted and aided Chen in the capital.
He Peirong, a Nanjing activist and Chen supporter who drove a getaway car taking the blind activist out of his home province of Shandong, remained missing, friends said.
The police acknowledgment is an indication that Chen’s troubles with the authorities have primarily been about revenge by local leaders who were angered by his exposing of forced abortions.
His treatment by local authorities had seemed especially bitter and personal. Even after he served four years in prison on charges his supporters say were fabricated, local officials kept him and his wife confined at home since his release in September 2010. They did so despite lacking any legal basis, prevented outsiders from visiting the family and occasionally beat him and his wife up.
Burly men patrolling the village and stationed on a main road leading into the community have beaten up would-be visitors to Chen’s house, thrown stones at reporters and threatened diplomats.
Central authorities had not shown much inclination to stop the authorities in Shandong province’s Linyi city, which oversees Chen’s village of Dongshigu. But the Chinese government has a long history of ignoring its own laws.
“The fact is that the Chinese central government of President Hu Jintao and Premier Wen Jiabao passively or actively condoned, if not outright encouraged local government officials and security forces in Shandong to victimize Chen Guangcheng and his family for years,” said Human Rights Watch researcher Phelim Kine.
“The unlawful confinement and abuse endured by Chen Guangcheng and his family and now his subsequent escape only heightens justifiable domestic and international concerns about the state of rule of law in China,” Kine said in emailed comments.
Chen angered local authorities after documenting forced late-term abortions and sterilizations and other abuses in his rural community, but he was sentenced for allegedly instigating an unrelated attack on government offices and organizing a group of people to disrupt traffic.
Chen’s documentation and the international media attention it drew at the time had prompted the National Population and Family Planning Commission to investigate. The agency validated Chen’s claims and said in late 2005 that some Linyi officials had been punished, with some of them removed from their posts and others detained.
However, once Chen started getting in trouble with the local officials during the ensuing year, the national agency looked the other way.
“We have no information about Mr. Chen Guangcheng,” agency spokesman Hao Hongcai said in July 2006. “This issue now belongs to the local authorities.”
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