WASHINGTON, D.C.–On November 1st, the Congressional-Executive Commission on China held a hearing on "Examination into the Abuse and Extralegal Detention of Legal Advocate Chen Guangcheng and His Family". Commission Chair Rep. Chris Smith (R-NJ) and Rep. Tim Walz (D-MN) listened to the testimony of three experts: Professor Jerome Cohen (US-Asia Law Institute of NYU School of Law, Council on Foreign Relations), Sharon Hom (Human Rights in China), and Chai Ling (All Girls Allowed).
Tuesday's hearing was an emergency hearing to expose the case of Chen Guangcheng, a self-taught human rights lawyer, currently under house arrest in his hometown of Linyi with his wife and six-year-old daughter. Born blind, Chen began his legal career in 1996 educating disabled citizens about their rights, and later started to documented local villagers' stories of forced abortions and forced sterilizations, culminating in building briefs and lawsuits to vindicate them. For these "crimes" of standing up to injustice officials began a barbaric campaign against Chen in 2005. His September 2010 release from four years in prison only resulted in his and his family's house arrest without medical attention. Throughout October, human rights activists, writers, bloggers, petitioners and ordinary Chinese have traveled to visit him, only to be beaten and repelled by police-hired thugs.
Jerome Cohen, who has known Chen for eight years, debunked three myths. The persecution and abuse of Chinese lawyers and legal activists is not rare, but actually under a widespread, systemic official assault, covered up by CCP censorship. Chen's punishment is not merely a local abuse forbidden by the central government–Cohen has made the case apparent to the Ministry of Public Security for many years, to no avail. The third myth is that there must be some legal justification to Chen's suffering, some "veneer of plausible legitimacy"–but none has been offered by the Chinese government. While China has attained legitimacy by trumpeting a new rights-based "socialist legal system," it crushes lawyers like Chen to make certain these rights are never realized. The only way to free him and other victims is through greater transparency in China's criminal proceedings and enhanced publicity by foreign advocates and governments.
Sharon Hom pointed out that governments including the US, UN and EU have called for Chen's release throughout his imprisonment, while his supporters are currently attempting to visit him from all over China to show solidarity. Eyewitnesses report that last Sunday, October 30th, 37 visitors were beaten by around 100 unidentified thugs while authorities stood by. Residents of Linyi have reported screams and beatings heard from Chen's padlocked house. However, officials have been unable to shut down online campaigns to virtually visit Chen–most notably the Dark Glasses Portrait campaign, inviting supporters to upload photos of themselves wearing dark glasses reminiscent of Chen's. Hom warned the Commission about China's attempt to increase its "soft power" by purchasing Western news outlets and establishing Confucius Institutes in US universities and communities, which teach Mandarin with a curriculum that ignores both historical and present human rights violations like the Laogai system. The US must insist that these Institutes use a balanced Western curriculum, as Australia has, while US diplomats should start visiting Chen and making noise to release him, as Ambassador Huntsman did for Xue Feng in years past.
Chai Ling gave a detailed account of the brutal four-hour beating of Chen and his wife in July, witnessed by their young daughter. She added that China has experienced its economic revolution and is moving toward a new political revolution through the suffering of people like Chen, but is in most need of a spiritual revolution, after which such abuse would be unthinkable. She compared the US government's silence regarding Chen to the 18 passersby who left a Chinese toddler to die after a car accident on October 13th.
Rep. Chris Smith welcomed the testimony, exclaiming, "Enough is enough. The cruelty and extreme violence against Chen and his family brings dishonor to the government of China and must end. Chen and his family must be free." In response to Sharon Hom's point that overt US support for Chinese human rights no longer works, Rep. Smith passionately argued that since the de-pegging of Most Favored Nation status from human rights, the American government has silently abandoned the cause. The only way to save Chen and Chinese human rights is for the US to robustly and vocally assert an effort, and to raise concrete examples, such as the freeing of Chen, in negotiations with China. To this, the Laogai Research Foundation would add, the US must speak truth to power by exposing the Laogai prison camp system and condemning the PRC for this ongoing crime, which looms in the fate of human rights advocates like Chen Guangcheng.