Blind Chinese Rights Activist Defiant After Prison Beating
Saturday, June 23, 2007
BEIJING, June 22 -- A blind legal activist imprisoned after angering local officials in Shandong province went on a three-day hunger strike this week to protest being beaten while in custody, lawyers and supporters said Friday.
Chen Guangcheng, 35, who was sentenced last August to more than four years in prison for damaging property and disrupting traffic, has said he was wrongfully convicted. Last Saturday, Chen objected when other prisoners tried to shave his head in accordance with prison rules. When Chen refused, six or seven other inmates pushed him to the floor and beat and kicked him, Chen's wife told his lawyer Li Jinsong after visiting her husband Tuesday.
"She saw that his mood was unhappy, that his knees and ribs were red, injured and swollen," Li said in a telephone interview Friday. "She was afraid one of the ribs might be broken. He began rejecting food and water after the beating."
Chen's case attracted international attention after he documented complaints that Linyi city officials had tried to enforce birth control regulations by illegally forcing farmers to undergo late-term abortions and sterilizations. Chen, blinded by a childhood illness, taught himself the law and helped farmers prepare a class-action lawsuit.
He and other rights activists have suffered recently as Chinese leaders have cracked down on dissent in advance of the 2008 Olympic Games and an upcoming Communist Party congress. China's top security chief has branded Chinese rights activists a threat to stability and Communist Party rule and said they are influenced by overseas interests.
Although Chen received support for his campaign from national family planning officials -- who acknowledged that their policies ought to be legally enforced -- he was detained in Beijing by embarrassed local officials. He was returned to Shandong province, placed under house arrest and brought up on what his attorneys described as trumped-up charges.
The case has been marked by irregularities, including the beating and detention of Chen's defense attorneys, who are now seeking to appeal the conviction.
Hu Jia, a rights activist who is under house arrest but able to speak with the media, said Chen's wife, Yuan Weijing, called him in tears on Tuesday. She told him her husband had not had anything to eat or drink for the 76 hours between the beating and her visit with him. Chen could stand up only very slowly, she said.
Yuan went to the prison again Thursday to see her husband and was told by officials that he had undergone a medical examination and was found to be uninjured. He had also resumed eating and drinking after the checkup, lawyer Li said.
"I personally think that it was not the revenge of prison officials. It's more likely that it's just the misbehavior of the other prison inmates," Li said.
Amnesty International said in a statement Friday that the group believes Chen's life is in danger "and that he is at risk of further torture and ill-treatment."