Chinese Human Rights Defender Chen Guangcheng Escapes Illegal Home Confinement

April 27, 2012

On April 27, 2012, international human rights organizations and news agencies reported that human rights defender Chen Guangcheng escaped from his home outside of Linyi city, Shandong province, on or around April 22, after being subjected to extralegal home confinement (ruanjin) for nineteen months (Human Rights Watch, 27 April 12; Amnesty International, 27 April 12; New York Times, 27 April 12; Associated Press, 27 April 12). Chen reportedly received assistance from others who brought him to a "secret location" in Beijing (Washington Post, 27 April 12). BBC (27 April 12) and New York Times, citing human rights advocate Hu Jia and Chinese state security sources, have suggested that Chen may currently be in the U.S. Embassy in Beijing, but those reports could not be confirmed.

Chen Guangcheng Releases Public Appeal to Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao

Following his escape, Chen released an online video directed to Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao in which he makes the following three demands:

  • Investigate and prosecute local officials that have abused him and his family members;
  • Ensure the safety of his family members;
  • Investigate and punish corruption in general in China, and specifically in connection with his confinement, in accordance with the law.

According to extracts of the video (available via the BBC Web site), Chen stated, "Dear Premier Wen—With great difficulty, I finally escaped. All the rumours and claims on the internet about violence against me and my wife...I tell you that they are all true." In his later remarks, Chen recounted specific details of abuses he and his family suffered at the hands of "70 to 80 county public security and party cadres."

Chen's Relatives and Supporters Reportedly Detained and Harassed Following His Escape

On April 27, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay "expressed concern about the welfare of Chen and the safety and well-being of his family members," according to an April 27 press release on the OHCHR Web site. According to an April 27 statement released by Chinese Human Rights Defenders (CHRD), a non-governmental organization that monitors Chinese human rights developments, Chen's family members and those who have worked to secure his escape may be subject to a "round of retaliation" following Chen's "flight for freedom." The CHRD statement claims that the current status of Chen's immediate family members—including his wife, mother, and daughter, all of whom had been under illegal house arrest with him—"is unknown but likely very precarious." CHRD reports that Chinese authorities have taken Chen's older brother, Chen Guangfu, and Chen Guangfu's son, Chen Kegui, into custody. In addition, authorities reportedly detained Chen's cousin, Chen Guangcun, and Chen Guangcun's son, Chen Hua. Chen Kegui was said to have turned himself into local police officials after he sustained injuries defending himself against unknown personnel who reportedly broke into his house. However, an official Yinan county government Web site reported, via the Global Times, that he was unaccounted for, as of April 26 (Global Times, 26 April 12). Authorities reportedly detained He Peirong, the human rights advocate who reportedly assisted Chen in his escape, at her home in Nanjing, according to an April 27 Washington Post article.

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 held a hearing on November 1, 2011, to examine the abuse and extralegal detention of Chen and his family. 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.