In an article published last week in Hong Kong, Jerome A. Cohen, an American authority on Chinese law and co-director of New York University’s U.S.-Asia Law Institute, said Chen has suffered “barbaric abuse” at the hands of Linyi officials. Cohen was set to testify Tuesday at the congressional hearing.
Ahead of shooting in Linyi, Relativity Media issued a news release that boasted of its support from senior local officials. It quoted Linyi’s Communist Party boss, Zhang Shajun, as describing Relativity’s chief executive, Ryan Kavanaugh, as a “good friend.”
It isn’t the first time Hollywood has raised eyebrows with the company it keeps abroad. Two-time Oscar winner Hilary Swank apologized recently for making a paid trip to Chechnya for the birthday celebrations of Ramzan Kadyrov, the region’s brutal Kremlin-backed leader. She said she wasn’t aware of Chechnya’s notoriety for torture, disappearances and other abuses.
In a telephone interview, Su Guiyou, director of the Linyi Propaganda Department’s Culture Industry Office, said that the district hoped to become a center for movie-making and that the American comedy “will be a good chance to publicize Linyi and will help make Linyi famous not only in China, but also the world.” The Hollywood team, he said, filmed for four days last week and shot a “dream scene” in a local quarry.
Asked about Chen and complaints about his treatment, Su said he had never heard of the activist and hung up.
Chen, who lost his sight during a childhood illness, first clashed with Linyi authorities a decade ago after he started going to court on behalf of people with disabilities who had been denied tax breaks and other rights due under Chinese law. He then campaigned against a toxic paper mill owned by a local party official.
He was thrown in jail in 2006 after he took up the cases of villagers who, in violation of Chinese law, had been forced to undergo abortions and sterilizations as part of a 2004 family-planning crackdown in Linyi. His crime: disturbing traffic and creating a public disturbance.
Chen’s plight since his release has attracted widespread attention abroad and galvanized a small but determined group of Chinese supporters, who include prominent writers, into action. They have launched petitions online and organized attempts to penetrate a no-go zone established around Chen’s house by Linyi officials. Scores have tried to visit him. Many have been roughed up by thugs working for local authorities.
Foreign diplomats and journalists have tried to visit and been turned away, sometimes with violence. Activists said Chen managed to smuggle out a video this year — and received a beating, as did his wife.
Chen’s case was a taboo topic in China’s heavily censored media for years but has recently been mentioned in print, a sign that the actions of Linyi officials are perhaps causing unease among at least some segments of the party hierarchy. The Global Times, which is controlled by the party’s official organ, the People’s Daily, published an editorial last month critical of Linyi authorities for their handling of Chen’s case.
Cohen, the New York law professor, said that instead of making a comedy, Hollywood filmmakers should go to Chen’s village and try to film there. “Publicity is the only thing that might help this sad situation,” he said.
Staff researcher Zhang Jie in Beijing contributed to this report.