Sat, Feb 04, 2006 - Page 4 News List

Chinese activist confined at home

UNDER LOCK AND KEY After exposing the cruel practices of local authorities in enforcing the one-child policy, a blind lawyer is now kept under full house arrest


Dongshigu is a village that the Chinese authorities would like the outside world to ignore.

This is the home and prison of Chen Guangcheng (陳光誠), a blind civil-rights activist, who has been kept under house arrest for more than four months because he attempted to expose the dark side of China's one-child policy. There has been no formal arrest, no charge and no trial. But the disabled peasant's two-storey courtyard residence is under 24-hour siege by more than a dozen plainclothes guards led by communist cadres and supported by police.

Nature has already taken away Chen's sight. Now the government is trying to remove his voice as well as his liberty and legal rights.

Chen's landline has been cut. Mobile phone signals are blocked. Lawyers who try to visit have been beaten up. The state media are forbidden from investigating the case.

Chen is not allowed to speak because the authorities are embarrassed by what he has to say. Last September, he was abducted off the streets of Beijing by family planning officials and police from Shandong. They wanted to stop him launching legal action on behalf of the victims of forced abortions and sterilizations in his municipal district of Linyi.

According to civil-rights campaigners who worked with Chen, more than 7,000 people among Linyi city's 4 million people were forced to undergo sterilization operations in the first six months of last year. Women who already had two children were reportedly made to have abortions if they became pregnant again. If they went into hiding, their relatives were punished with detentions, fines and study sessions. Their lawyers allege that some people were beaten to death because they attempted to resist the operations.

Such tactics are illegal. The law states that only financial penalties can be levied against parents who break China's 25-year-old one-child policy. The policy, which aims to stabilize China's 1.3 billion population, allows families to have only one child, except ethnic minorities, who can have three children, and farmers, who can have two children if their first child is a daughter. But Shandong's population has surged in recent years. Knowing their chances of promotion are linked to family planning targets, officials turned to ruthless measures to enforce regulations.

They would probably have remained hidden if it were not for Chen, who until a year ago was a symbol of hope for China's legal system.

Blind from the age of two, he later threw himself into the study of medicine and the law so that he could improve the conditions of disabled people. Although unqualified, his success as a legal advocate earned him a reputation as a champion for the disadvantaged.

After he was contacted by mothers who had suffered at the hands of overzealous family planning officials, Chen started lobbying in Beijing, eventually forcing the central government to acknowledge that the law had been violated. The National Population and Family Planning Commission promised that those responsible would be punished.

But four months later, only one person is being penalized: Chen.

Dongshigu village is an hour's drive from the city along a long, straight road jammed with overladen trucks, cars and three-wheeled tractors. As soon as we arrived, a burly man in a dark jacket told us we were not allowed in the village.

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