Top House lawmakers stood by Wednesday as blind dissident Chen Guancheng issued another strong rebuke of the Chinese government and raised fresh concerns about the fate of his nephew, who he said is being held by Chinese authorities.
Chen, who left China with his wife and children in April after high-level diplomatic negotiations to ensure his safe departure, made a noontime appearance with House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio), House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and other lawmakers who he had met with privately to discuss his concerns.
The visit resulted in a rare joint appearance by Boehner and Pelosi, but both leaders stood by as Chen recounted lingering concerns for his nephew, Chen Kegui. Speaking through a Chinese interpreter, Chen said “hired thugs” broke into his brother’s home and that his nephew was “compelled to defend himself using a kitchen knife.” The story Chen recounted mirrors a Washington Post op-ed he wrote in June and other public statements.
Then, with Pelosi to his left and Boehner right behind him, Chen accused the Chinese government of reneging on its promise to investigate the abuse and detention he faced before leaving the country in April.
“Up until now — and it has been more than three months — I have not received any news on the progress of this investigation or even whether it has commenced,” Chen said through his interpreter. “Since my arrival in the United States, no Chinese government officials have contacted me.”
“Currently the human rights situation is deteriorating. Great cruelty has resulted from efforts to maintain social stability, resulting in a situation in which there is no ethics, rule of law or justice,” he said. “This has led to [an] increasing number of people whose rights have been violated, and these people have and will rise up in protest.”
Chen also called on the U.S. government to “support and assist with a smooth transition in China” away from communist rule and “toward human rights in China.”
Chen, a lawyer and rights activist, is studying at the U.S.-Asia Law Institute at New York University’s School of Law. His adjustment to American life has included rigorous English language lessons that use the Declaration of Independence as a makeshift textbook.
None of the lawmakers who stood with Chen, including House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairwoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.), made any comments to suggest that they disagreed with him.
Referring to Chen’s two-year detention and journey to the United States, Boehner said he had “great admiration for the courage that he and his family have shown.”
“While our economic relationship with China is important, the United States has an obligation to engage China and press for democratic reforms and improvement in its human rights practices,” Boehner said later. “We cannot remain silent when fundamental human rights are being violated. We cannot remain silent when religious liberty is under attack. We cannot remain silent regarding China’s reprehensible ‘One Child’ policy.”
Pelosi, a longtime critic of Chinese policy, noted that members of both parties have long been concerned with the fate of Chinese rights activists. Boehner and others in the room laughed when she said: “I don’t often say this, Mr. Speaker, but I do wish to associate myself with your remarks, because I think that you said very well all that our country stands for.”
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