Crouching Lawyer, Sullen Dragon
The dramatic escape of the blind dissident lawyer, Chen Guangcheng, from house arrest in the Shandong province and his temporary sheltering in Beijing’s American embassy, have refocussed world attention on China’s human rights deficit. The incidents have also triggered an uneasy row between China and the US.
A country which spends more on internal surveillance than on its military defence, and which has the largest number of political prisoners in the world has a lot to hide. The tactic of extrajudicial confining of acti-vists to their homes, even after they have served unjust ‘legal’ sentences in jail, is not limited to Chen or Nobel laureate Liu Xiaobo. Hundreds, who have dared to raise uncomfortable truths about China’s authorita-rian rule, have encountered the same fate. If such courageous individuals were free to write and talk, they would have undermined President Hu Jintao’s goal of a “harmonious society”.
Chen has been a victim of the one-party state’s fury because he had exposed its three cruel effects, viz the denial of reproductive rights through the one-child policy adopted since 1979; the marginalisation of physically challenged or disabled people; and the restrictions on religious rights through the suppression of faiths, which didn’t enjoy the Communist Party’s imprimatur.
Chen earned the ire of the government in 2005 for filing legal action on behalf of citizens who were subjected to forcible abortions and sterilisations by state agents. China’s official Family Planning Commission claims to have prevented more than 400 million births, while not admitting that coercion and torture have been widely employed in this process. Chen was branded a puppet of “foreign anti-China forces” for raising his voice on behalf of poor peasants whose families were being taken hostage by local party officials for resisting population control measures.