Since blind activist Chen Guangcheng (陳光誠) was being held under illegal house arrest by local Chinese officials, his only offense in escaping from his rural home has been to embarrass his captors. Even police in Beijing seem to acknowledge this, saying he broke no laws, according to his supporters.
Chen, a campaigner who exposed forced abortions and other abuses, made a surprising escape from house arrest, through fields and forest, more than a week ago to the presumed custody of US diplomats. Security forces and officials have reacted angrily, detaining several of his supporters for questioning, including Beijing-based activist and Chen’s friend Hu Jia (胡佳).
However, Hu yesterday said the two police officers who questioned him in Beijing acknowledged that Chen, as well as two other activists who helped him flee his guarded farmhouse in eastern China, did not act illegally.
“They are all free citizens,” Hu quoted the police officers as saying. “For them to come to Beijing and so on, there is nothing illegal about it. They are free to do so. They did not do anything wrong, they have no legal trouble. We just want to understand the situation and verify it.”
Beijing police had no immediate response to a faxed request for comment.
Hu was questioned for 24 hours over the weekend. One of the two supporters who was detained after helping Chen flee, Guo Yushan (郭玉閃), was released on Monday. Guo hosted Chen in the capital.
He Peirong (何培蓉), a Nanjing activist who drove a getaway car taking Chen out of his home province of Shandong, remained missing, friends said.
The police acknowledgment is an indication that Chen’s troubles with the authorities have primarily been about revenge by local leaders who were angered by his exposing of forced abortions.
His treatment by local authorities had seemed especially bitter and personal.
Even after he served four years in prison on charges his supporters say were fabricated, local officials kept him and his wife confined at home since his release in September 2010. They did so despite lacking any legal basis.
Central authorities had not shown much inclination to stop the authorities in Shandong Province’s Linyi city, which oversees Chen’s village of Dongshigu, but the Chinese government has a long history of ignoring its own laws.
“The fact is that the Chinese central government of President Hu Jintao (胡錦濤) and Premier Wen Jiabao (溫家寶) passively or actively condoned, if not outright encouraged local government officials and security forces in Shandong to victimize Chen Guangcheng and his family for years,” Human Rights Watch researcher Phelim Kine said.
“The unlawful confinement and abuse endured by Chen Guangcheng and his family and now his subsequent escape only heightens justifiable domestic and international concerns about the state of rule of law in China,” Kine said in e-mailed comments.