Chen Guangcheng Is Safe in New York, but Thinks of China

By webadmin on 02:09 pm Jun 27, 2012
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Erik Eckholm

New York. One month after their flight from China to New York, the dissident lawyer Chen Guangcheng and his family have settled into comfortable, busy lives in Greenwich Village.

Chen is enjoying his first chance in years to study and use the Internet without fear of arrests or beatings. But he is hardly serene.

In an interview June 18, Chen, 40, a blind, self-taught lawyer, displayed anger at the Beijing government for failing so far to investigate the local officials who persecuted him and beat his relatives. He and his wife, Yuan Weijing, said they remained desperately worried about the harsh treatment of those they left behind in Shandong province.

In previous statements, Chen expressed hopes for rapid legal changes in China and said he took Beijing officials at their word when they promised to punish provincial officials who he said had exceeded their powers.

On June 18, he repeated his belief that the rule of law is inevitable. But he has seen no signs, he said, of an honest inquiry into what many experts call his blatantly illegal treatment over the years, retaliation for agitating on behalf of the disabled, farmers and women who were forced to have abortions. Sounding more defiant than he did right after his arrival May 19, he threatened to embarrass the Chinese government severely if they did not act soon.

“If they don’t open an investigation in a timely manner, I will quickly make my next step,” he said. “Then the central government will not have an opportunity to be the good guy.”

Chen refused to be more explicit. In past weeks, and again June 18, he has hinted that he is withholding details of extreme brutality that he and his wife endured during the home detention over the last year and a half. But it was unclear how effective any such revelations would be in prodding Beijing to respond to his demands.

Chen and his wife spoke at New York University’s US-Asia Law Institute, which has granted him visiting scholar status for an indefinite period. The university has provided a faculty apartment near Washington Square.

Their children, ages 6 and 10, are attending a public school and picking up English, while Chen and Yuan study English for two hours every morning. Chen spends many afternoons meeting legal experts one on one, learning about the American Constitution and the United States legal system — starting, he made a point of saying, with the Declaration of Independence. He plans to learn about disability law, among other topics.

Any extra time is taken by meetings with politicians, human rights advocates and friends from China and the United States. Chen plans to write a book, he said, and expects to keep speaking out on legal issues. But after years of near-isolation, he said, he needed time to learn and think.

Life here is light years removed from the brutal house arrest Chen and his wife endured until April, when he made a daring escape from their village home and took refuge in the United States Embassy. After a diplomatic standoff, he was allowed to travel abroad to study.

In 2006, after Chen angered local authorities by bringing a class-action suit alleging forced sterilizations and abortions, he was sent to prison for four years on what many observers called trumped-up charges.

After his release in 2010, the couple were isolated at their home under heavy guard, the windows covered with metal sheets, and they were beaten when they tried to communicate with outsiders.

After they discovered that Chen had escaped, the local police rampaged through the home of his older brother in the middle of the night, beating the brother and his wife, who still cannot lift her right arm as a result, Chen said. Chen’s nephew, who slashed at the intruders with a knife, was severely beaten and is being held on an attempted murder charge.

Neither relatives nor their chosen lawyers have been allowed to visit the nephew, and Chen fears the beatings have continued.

Chen’s efforts to expose forced abortions won him attention in the United States anti-abortion movement. Since his arrival in the United States, some activists have wondered whether he will support the anti-abortion cause here.

Chen said that in China, the issue was forced abortions and that he had not given much thought to the underlying morality of abortion. Now, he said, he is not sure where he stands, adding, “I think that life should be cherished.” He firmly denied rumors that he is an evangelical Christian.

As for the future, Chen clings to the hope that he can return to China within the next few years.

What if the Chinese government refuses to let him return, in an effort to sideline him like other exiled dissidents?

“It’s premature to think about that,” he said.

New York Times