Authorities Loosen Some Restrictions on Chen Guangcheng and Family, Continue To Hold Them Under Tight Control

December 22, 2011

In recent weeks, local authorities in Linyi county, Shandong province, reportedly have loosened some measures used to control rights defender Chen Guangcheng, whom they have held with his wife, daughter, and mother in extralegal detention in their home since September 2010. While in detention, the family has been subjected to beatings, round-the-clock surveillance, and other forms of harassment. Despite reported relaxation of certain controls on Chen and his family, authorities continue to hold them under strict control and continue to block access to individuals who attempt to visit Chen's village. 

Reported Changes in Official Restrictions on Chen and Family

Sources close to the family of self-trained legal advocate Chen Guangcheng told Reuters (5 December 11) that Chinese authorities in Linyi county, Shandong province, have loosened some restrictions on Chen and his family. Local authorities reportedly now allow Chen's 77-year-old mother to leave the village for supplies. They also reportedly have permitted Chen to receive medicine for his intestinal illness, and are allowing Chen's six-year-old daughter to attend school, albeit under "constant guard." According to one activist, whom Reuters quoted under the condition of anonymity, "[Chen's] health has improved." However, according to He Peirong, a Nanjing-based rights advocate and friend of Chen's family, "[Authorities] haven't allowed [Chen] to go to the hospital for a full check-up." Chen reportedly remains under strict surveillance and authorities continue to block access to his village, Dongshigu, as evidenced in CNN's video coverage of actor Christian Bale's thwarted attempt to visit Chen on December 16. According to another source close to Chen’s family, cited in the Reuters report, "The government officials said they will keep [Chen] under guard for the rest of his life, until he dies."

Wave of Increased Attention and Advocacy Efforts

In 2011, Chen Guangcheng's case has stirred a wave of human rights advocacy among Chinese citizens, especially Internet users, and attracted international attention to human rights and rule of law developments in China.

  • Chinese citizen attempts to visit Chen Guangcheng. An increasing number of Chinese citizens have attempted—at times in large groups—to visit Chen's home in 2011 only to encounter beatings and detentions. These include:
    • Internet activist He Peirong (see January 12 post on Free Chen Guangcheng blog);
    • Journalist and activist Li Jianjun and two other individuals (see October 26 Chinese Human Rights Defenders report);
    • Rights advocate Liu Shasha and several companions (see September 19 Radio Free Asia (RFA) report; October 5 RFA report; and October 28 Agence France-Presse report);
    • Rights defender Mao Hengfeng and a group of 36 other rights defenders and "netizens" (see October 31 Human Rights in China report); and
    • Author Murong Xuecun, newspaper columnist Wang Xiaoshan, digital web director Zhang Enchao, Hu Zhongqiang, and a woman identified as "Nuola" (see Murong Xuecun's account published in the Guardian on November 11).
  • Foreign journalist attempts to visit Chen Guangcheng. Teams from media outlets including the New York Times, CNN, Le Monde, Radio France Internationale, and Le Nouvel Observateur attempted to visit Chen’s village in early 2011 and were roughed up, threatened with bricks, or had equipment seized or destroyed. (See March 11 CECC Analysis.)
  • U.S. government efforts to raise Chen’s case. Several U.S. government officials issued statements in late 2011 regarding Chen’s detention, including U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton (November 10, via AFP) and U.S. Ambassador to China Gary Locke (December 10). (See also a November 6 Global Post report, discussing Gary Locke’s September letter to the Chinese government regarding Chen Guangcheng.) The Congressional-Executive Commission on China held a hearing on November 1 (statement of Representative Chris Smith, Chairman; statement of Representative Tim Walz, Ranking Member), and Chairman Smith and Senator Sherrod Brown, Cochairman, issued a joint statement on November 1.
  • Protest in Hong Kong. Hong Kong rights advocates protested before the Liaison Office of the Central People’s Government on November 11, urging the Chinese government to release Chen ahead of his 40th birthday on November 12. (See November 11 RFA report.)
  • Ongoing advocacy campaigns. Chinese citizens and civil society organizations as well as international organizations have set up advocacy campaigns on the Internet to raise awareness of and express solidarity for Chen. These campaigns include Dark Glasses: Portrait, Free Chen Guangcheng Civic Action (as discussed in a November 11 CHRD report, pp. 8-10); a “Free Chen” petition organized by Shanghai rights advocate Feng Zhenghu and signed by more than 370 people in Shanghai (see October 20 RFA report); and the Chen Guangcheng Sunglasses Freedom Campaign (see the Women’s Rights Without Frontiers Web site).

Background: Chen Guangcheng

In 1996, Chen Guangcheng began defending the rights of disabled peasants and providing legal advice as a self-trained legal advocate focusing on antidiscrimination. Over the next decade, his legal advocacy was recognized in China and internationally. In 2005, Chen's rights defense work drew international news media attention to population planning abuses in Linyi city, Shandong province. Local authorities placed Chen under house arrest in September 2005 and formally arrested him in June 2006. The Yinan County People's Court first tried and sentenced Chen in August 2006 to four years and three months in prison for "intentional destruction of property" and "organizing a group of people to disturb traffic order." His defense lawyers were taken into custody on the eve of his trial. The Yinan court retried the case in November 2006 and upheld the first judgment. Chen's retrial prompted repeated criticism for its criminal procedure violations. In June 2007, Chen reportedly informed his wife and brother that he had been beaten by fellow inmates, according to a June 21 Chinese Human Rights Defenders report. In August 2007, Yuan Weijing attempted to travel to the Philippines to accept the Ramon Magsaysay award on behalf of Chen, but Chinese authorities intercepted her before leaving the country and forcibly returned her to her village, according to an August 25, 2007, Washington Post report. During the period of Chen's imprisonment, authorities also repeatedly subjected Yuan and their two children to harassment, home confinement, surveillance, and other abuses, according to reports from journalist and blogger Wang Keqin (14 March 09), Amnesty International (20 April 09), and Radio Free Asia (22 April 09), as well as the testimony of Jerome A. Cohen, Professor of Law and Co-Director , US-Asia Law Institute, New York University, at an August 3, 2010, Congressional-Executive Commission on China hearing.

The Commission’s most recent analysis on Chen reported on the violent beatings Chen and his wife faced after they recorded and leaked video footage detailing the harsh conditions of their extralegal detention. Previous coverage of Chen Guangcheng's case can be found online via the CECC's Virtual Academy. For additional information on Chen and China's population planning policy, see Section II—Population Planning in the CECC 2011 Annual Report. For more information on Chinese official detention, harassment, and abuse of lawyers, see Section II—Criminal Justice and Section III—Access to Justice in the CECC 2011 Annual Report. For more information on freedom of the press in China, see Section II—Freedom of Expression in the CECC 2011 Annual Report.