Monday 23 October 2017

Chen enjoys freedom -- but pressure on family mounts

Blind Chinese dissident Chen Guangcheng (C) is helped by his wife Yuan Weijing (R) after arriving in New York. Photo: Reuters
Blind Chinese dissident Chen Guangcheng (C) is helped by his wife Yuan Weijing (R) after arriving in New York. Photo: Reuters

Chris Buckley and Sui-Lee Wee in Beijing

BLIND Chinese rights activist Chen Guangcheng (pictured) last night cherished his first hours in New York after years of jail and detention, but back home his relatives and supporters remained in the hands of security authorities.

Mr Chen's escape last month from 19 months of detention in his home village in eastern China and his six-day stay in the US embassy in Beijing exposed embarrassing gaps in the web of security that the ruling Communist Party uses to stifle dissent.

He plans a break from that pressure after his arrival in the United States to take up a New York University fellowship.

But the continued pressure on Mr Chen's family in Shandong province and on activists who supported him shows that his flight does not mean China will relax its grip on dissent.

"There won't be any big changes for us now that Chen Guangcheng has left. There are still many reasons to keep up control and stability preservation," Jiang Tianyong, a Beijing human rights lawyer, said, referring to the Communist Party's terms for controlling dissidents.

Promises

Mr Jiang, a long-time campaigner for Mr Chen's freedom, said he remained under house arrest, despite police officers' earlier promises that he would be released after Mr Chen left.

"I still don't know when they're going to let up," Mr Jiang said of the police restrictions. "This is no way forward, but especially with the 18th party congress, the high pressure will probably only grow."

The Communist Party will anoint a new leadership at its congress this year, one of a series of dates on China's political calendar when authorities tighten security against activists to portray an image of stability and unity.

The Foreign Ministry has said that Mr Chen was a "free citizen" after his release from jail in 2010. But the walls, security cameras and guards that penned him inside his home and kept supporters out reflect the pervasive informal controls used to bottle up dissent.

Mr Chen's nephew, Chen Kegui, remains in police detention in Shandong, facing charges of attempted homicide after a struggle with guards following the dissident's escape. Mr Chen older brother, Chen Guangfu, is also "under restrictions", it was reported.

Irish Independent

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