Blind Chinese Activist Who Escaped To New York Urges America To Save His Family

cheng guangcheng chinese human rights activist on the streets of new york city

It has been a little over a year since blind Chinese activist Chen Guangcheng escaped from house arrest and made his way to America. The 41-year-old self-taught lawyer is settling in, studying at New York University and learning English.

While Chen has escaped, however, he fears worsening conditions for his relatives in China, as he explained in an interview with Business Insider.

Chen says that the level of harassment against his family has increased recently. He said that in recent days both his brother and his elderly mother have faced harassment — glasses smashed outside their houses, plants ripped out of the ground —  and found their complaints to local police go unanswered. The Washington Post has reported that dead ducks and chickens have been thrown at his brother’s home.

Of particular worry is the situation for Chen’s nephew, Chen Kegui, who was sentenced to prison time for assaulting government officials after Chen’s escape. Now, according to family in China, Chen has an appendicitis, and authorities at the prison where he is being held will not take him to receive outside medical treatment.

“I understand that in jail, he had not been given permission [to leave] despite my demands for him to be taken to a hospital,” Chen said through a translator. “I understand that the appendix itself is worsening. It hasn’t totally ruptured, but it’s worsening.”

A source told us that Chen’s family haven’t had an update on Chen Kegui’s condition since the end of the day Monday. This could mean that he is receiving medical treatment, but it could mean much worse — and the lack of communication itself is cruel.

“Chen Kegui’s life and health are now in the hands of the same authorities who have authorised or tolerated other abuses against him in prison and his family in their village,” Sophie Richardson, China director at Human Rights Watch said. “To deny him appropriate treatment reflects at best incompetence and at worst a twisted effort to torment the Chen family.”

Chen Kegui ChinaChen Kegui

The big question for Chen now is what the U.S. government can do to help his nephew and the rest of his family.

“As I see it, the U.S. government is able to and should do lot more to help this situation,” Chen said. “And if they put enough work into it, it will be resolved. When the U.S. government starts writing letters to people that are not made public, it’s not as effective as other actions the U.S. government could take.”

High profile members of U.S. government are aware of the Chen Kegui’s situation. Sources tell us that Chen met with Nancy Pelosi on Friday who immediately put in a call to the State Department. E-mails seen by Business Insider indicate John Kerry is personally looking into the case, though it is not known what if any action has been taken yet.

For Chen this problem is more urgent.

“You know, if we saw a rape in progress, we would do everything we could to stop the rape,” he told Business Insider. “We are seeing a rape in progress of the human rights of the Chinese people by the Chinese government. Is that something that needs to be resolved very quietly, by writing behind-the-scenes letters?”

Could the U.S. government be doing more? Last year Ambassador Gary Locke made a visit to the troubled region of Tibet — a similar visit to Shandong might put some pressure on both local officials and Beijing.

There’s a recent precedent for U.S. legal action against foreign nationals accused of committing human rights abuses abroad. The Magnitsky Act — a so-called black list of officials suspected of involvement in a fraud that led to the death of Moscow-lawyer Sergei Magnitsky — issued visa bans and asset freezes on at least 18 Russian nationals.

The big worry for Chen is that economic interests will trump human rights in China.

“Countries all over the world are putting their priorities on their commercial interests,” he said, “and therefore standing with the CPC.”

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