Chen Guangcheng, Wife Reportedly Beaten After Release of Video Detailing Official Abuse

March 11, 2011

Authorities reportedly beat rights defender Chen Guangcheng and his wife Yuan Weijing in their home on February 8 and February 18, 2011. The beatings are believed to be in connection to the couple's recording of video footage in which they spoke of official abuse and restrictive control over the family's home and daily life following Chen's release from prison on September 9, 2010. Officials reportedly have not permitted Chen and Yuan to seek medical care for their injuries. Foreign journalists and a "netizen" who attempted to visit Chen's village in recent weeks reported encountering "groups of violent, plainclothes thugs." Police also reportedly detained several lawyers and rights defenders in Beijing after they met to discuss Chen's case.

Officials Beat Chen Guangcheng and Yuan Weijing

On the evening of February 8, 2011, security officials from Linyi city, Shandong province, and Shuanghou township, Yinan county, Shandong province, reportedly beat self-trained legal advocate Chen Guangcheng and his wife Yuan Weijing, according to a February 10 China Aid Association (CAA) report. The report cited an unnamed source and indicated that the exact time of the beatings was still being confirmed. According to the report, officials may have denied Chen and Yuan access to medical care following the February 8 beatings. On February 18, officials reportedly broke into the family's home and for the second time beat Chen Guangcheng and Yuan Weijing and searched through their belongings, according to a February 21 China Human Rights Lawyers Concern Group report. Officials reportedly beat Yuan about the face and head. The two reported beatings followed the couple's covert recording of video footage in which they described the official surveillance, intimidation, harassment, and abuse their family has endured since Chen's release from prison after serving his full sentence on September 9, 2010. (CAA released part 1 of the video on its Web site on February 9, and parts 2, 3, 4, and 5 via Youtube.)

Smuggled Video Depicts Harsh Official Treatment

The hour-long video, recorded in secret and smuggled out of the family's home, contains footage of Chen Guangcheng and Yuan Weijing describing the restrictive conditions the family endures under "soft detention" (ruanjin). According to Chen and Yuan, authorities have employed the following measures to exert control over the family:

  • Tightened surveillance. Authorities reportedly assigned three teams of 22 security personnel to keep watch over the family home. Officials also reportedly installed additional surveillance devices, including floodlights around the family's home that are removed from sight during the daytime, and surveillance cameras trained on their home and nearby street intersections.
  • Restricted access to communication channels. Authorities reportedly cut off Internet and telephone access in the home and installed equipment in neighboring homes to block the family's cell phone signal.
  • Restricted movement and access to basic supplies. Officials reportedly place a lock on the family's door at night to prevent them from escaping while those charged with guarding them sleep on the front stoop. Chen said officials have not permitted anyone to enter or leave the home, except for his 76-year-old mother, whom Yuan describes as in poor health. The family, therefore, has limited ability to purchase food and supplies and relies on home-grown produce.
  • Restrictions involving the couple's children. When Chen and Yuan's young son, Chen Kerui, accidentally injured himself with a kitchen knife while staying at Yuan's parents' home, officials did not permit the couple to visit him in the hospital. In addition, their young daughter, Chen Kesi, reportedly has encountered difficulty attending school.
  • Prohibited access to medical care. Officials reportedly have prevented Chen Guangcheng from seeking medical care for recurring diarrhea. According to a Chinese Human Rights Defenders report (January 14, 2009) quoting Yuan, Chen developed the ailment while in prison in July 2008 and has since become emaciated and frail.
  • Restricted privacy. Officials illegally enter the home at will, without notice. Yuan described one instance in which security personnel even followed family members into the restroom.

The couple expressed concern in the video for the treatment they would face in the future. Chen said that, following the video's release, he is prepared for the possibility of officials treating him as they have treated human rights attorney Gao Zhisheng, whose whereabouts remain unknown after his second disappearance in April 2010. Yuan Weijing referred to officials' claims that if the couple remained incompliant, they would treat them "more brutally than in 2005 and 2006." In the video footage, Yuan asked friends to look after their children should something befall the couple.

Foreign Journalists and Supporters of Chen Encounter Police Abuse

Foreign journalists attempting to access Chen "encountered groups of violent, plainclothes thugs" in the dozens who blocked all entrances to the village, the Foreign Correspondents Club of China (FCCC) said in a February 17 warning on reporting Chen's case. The FCCC said journalists from the New York Times, CNN, Le Monde, Radio France Internationale, and Le Nouvel Observateur were roughed up, threatened with bricks, or had equipment seized or destroyed. CNN released a video on February 16 showing the men pushing one reporter and throwing rocks at the CNN team and their vehicle as they fled the scene. In a February 19 report, the New York Times said that one of the men responded to a question about the legal authority of their actions by saying, "This has nothing to do with law." The FCCC said that journalists notified local police about the situation but received no assistance. Security officials also beat "netizen" Gao Xingbo after he entered Chen's village, according to a February 15 CAA report. Human Rights in China (HRIC) reported on February 16 that police beat and detained Beijing-based lawyer Jiang Tianyong after he met with a group of lawyers, news reporters, and rights defenders to discuss possibilities for assisting Chen Guangcheng. According to HRIC, police also detained lawyer Tang Jitian at his home after attending the meeting and confiscated recorded video of the meeting from the home of another attendee. Police reportedly barred several other lawyers and rights advocates, including Xu Zhiyong, Li Xiongbing, Li Heping, Wang Lihong, Mo Zhixu, Chen Tianshi, and Liu Di from attending the meeting. According to a February 21 Huffington Post report, Tang Jitian's whereabouts remain unknown.

Background on 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 (March 14, 2009), Amnesty International (April 20, 2009), and Radio Free Asia (April 22, 2009), 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. 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 2010 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 2010 Annual Report. For more information on freedom of the press in China, see Section II—Freedom of Expression in the CECC 2010 Annual Report.