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Chinese to Prosecute Peasant Who Resisted One-Child Policy
But local authorities fought back, placing Chen under house arrest and launching an aggressive campaign to damage his reputation and deny his allegations. Party sources said Linyi officials distributed a report in Beijing that portrayed Chen as a tool of "foreign anti-China forces," accused him of violating the one-child policy and made much of the fact that he had received overseas funding for his work as an activist on behalf of the disabled.
Linyi officials also lobbied the Foreign Ministry and the powerful Propaganda Department, which agreed to ban any discussion of Chen in the state media and the Internet, the sources said.
For months, the party appeared torn about how to proceed, but the decision to prosecute Chen suggests that the Linyi officials have outmaneuvered others in the government who wanted to use the case to send a strong signal to local officials that forced sterilization and abortion would not be tolerated.
The government has declined to say how many officials were punished in Linyi or to identify any of them, but a Beijing official said "very, very few" were disciplined and a journalist said he was told the total was no more than five. Li Qun, the party chief in Linyi, and other local officials also declined repeated requests for comment.
By linking Chen to hostile foreign forces, party sources said, the Linyi officials made it politically risky for anyone to intervene on his behalf. The national population commission, for example, rebuked Linyi officials and singled them out for criticism, but refrained from defending Chen or bringing the case to top party leaders, the sources said.
"In the current political environment, in this political system, no official has any incentive to help him," said one Chinese scholar involved in the case who spoke on condition of anonymity. "The risks to your career are great, and there's little to be gained . . . . So the conservatives have a big advantage."
Chen's case was also complicated by an internal party debate over the future of the one-child policy. Some party officials and scholars have urged the government to relax the policy, arguing that it now causes more harm than good and that China faces a retirement crisis as its working-age population shrinks. But provincial leaders and others in the party have resisted.
A party official involved in the debate said Hu and others on the ruling Politburo Standing Committee are unwilling to take a position on the issue ahead of a leadership conference next year. As a result, he said, many in the party are not sure whether they should support Chen or condemn the Linyi officials.