Blind activist Chen Guangcheng says China assures it will investigate abuse

 

Rights advocate Chen Guangcheng says the Chinese government has quietly
promised him it will investigate abuses he and his family suffered at
the hands of local authorities, in a rare instance of Beijing bowing to
demands of an activist.

Beijing's apparent willingness to look into Chen's complaints is another sign that his gambit late last month — when the blind activist fled house arrest in his home town for the US Embassy and set off a diplomatic tussle — has succeeded in getting high officials to address his concerns.

Chen said an official from a central government bureau that handles citizens complaints has visited him in his Beijing hospital three times, including to take a statement last Thursday.

"After he took my statement, he said they would launch an investigation as long as there are facts, and that if there are facts about the illegal actions, then the issue definitely would be openly addressed," Chen told The Associated Press in an interview.

Chen said it remained to be seen how seriously Beijing would probe abuses by township and county officials, which date back to 2005 after Chen angered local authorities by documenting forced late-term abortions and sterilizations in his rural community.

"Will the investigation be thorough? That's hard to say, so we'll have to keep monitoring," Chen said.

The State Bureau of Letters and Calls, as the complaints office is known, did not respond. A man who answered the phone at the duty office of the bureau refused to provide a contact number for officials who handle media requests.

But even a preliminary investigation shows the extraordinary amount of attention Chen's case is getting. An estimated hundreds of thousands of ordinary Chinese present petitions every year and only a fraction bring action.

Chen served four years in prison on what supporters said were fabricated charges and was then kept under house arrest with his wife, daughter and mother. Chen has described how besides assaulting him, officials would also beat up his wife and mother, at one point chasing his wife on the road, pulling her from a vehicle and then hitting her. His daughter was also subject to searches and harassment.

The mistreatment has often seemed extreme and personal, exposing the impunity local officials believe they have and Beijing's unwillingness or inability to do anything about it.

For all its power, the authoritarian government relies on local officials to enforce policies so Beijing must be careful not to alienate them. However, with Chen's case now an international issue, Beijing is either feeling compelled to act or it is seizing the opportunity to get rid of local officials it dislikes.

Unless a case becomes "a big issue or crisis for them, even though they may or may not like what the local authorities are doing, they don't have a lot of reason to try to intervene," said Dali Yang, a political scientist and faculty director at the University of Chicago Center in Beijing. "They don't want to be seen as undermining local authorities because the local authorities, in doing something sometimes excessively, is also doing the bidding of the central government in maintaining stability."

In a sign that the government doesn't want Chen's case to set a precedent or encourage others, Beijing has not publicized its meetings with the activist, and coverage by the domestic media, nearly all of which is state-owned, has been limited to dispatches by the official Xinhua News Agency and editorials criticizing the US.

Though Chen, his wife and two children are in the hospital under arrangements that may see them leave for the US soon, others in his family remain at risk. Chen's nephew has reportedly been detained after a clash he had with officials following the activist's escape from house arrest.

Chen said in his talks with the visiting official that he also conveyed his wish that the guards stationed in his home and village by the local authorities be removed. He also told the official he is entrusting the hospital to handle the paperwork for his travel documents, he said.

Chen and his supporters have tried to draw attention to his mistreatment for years. After Chen escaped from arrest in his rural home in Shandong province on April 22, he stayed in hiding in Beijing for several days during which he recorded a detailed account of the abuse and his tormentors.

In the video, Chen named Zhang Jian, deputy party secretary in charge of politics and law of the township that oversees Chen's village, as well as five other officials from several different departments, as being among his persecutors.

"More than a dozen men broke into my house to beat up my wife. They pushed my wife down on the floor, covered her with a quilt, and beat and kicked her for several hours," he said in one example.

In the video, Chen appealed to Premier Wen Jiabao to punish authorities in the city of Linyi, saying that they sent 70 to 80 officials from county police, the local branch of the Communist Party and administrative agencies to his home "to loot and beat and harm us."

He urged the premier to act in part to make clear whether the violations were the acts of local officials or ordered by the central government.

Chen has told U.S. Embassy officials and his lawyer, Li Jinsong, about the visits from the official. American officials have previously said that Chinese government staffers had begun talking to Chen about his mistreatment by officials in his home province, but had no further comment on today.

Li welcomed the government's inquiry but said it would take time.

"Justice is often late, but it will not be absent," Li told the AP.

AP

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
News
peoplePair enliven the Emirates bore-draw
Arts and Entertainment
tvPoldark episode 8, review
News
Britain's opposition Labour Party leader Ed Miliband (R) and Boris Johnson, mayor of London, talk on the Andrew Marr show in London April 26
General electionAndrew Marr forced to intervene as Boris and Miliband clash on TV
News
news
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Senior Accounts Assistant - Accounts Payable - St. Albans

£26000 - £28000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: Senior Accounts Assistan...

Ashdown Group: Treasury Assistant - Accounts Assistant - London, Old Street

£24000 - £26000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: A highly successful, glo...

Recruitment Genius: Installation and Service / Security Engineer

£22000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company is part of a Group...

Recruitment Genius: Service Charge Accounts Assistant

£16000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you a a young, dynamic pers...

Day In a Page

Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

How a costume drama became a Sunday night staple
Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers as he pushes Tories on housing

Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers

Labour leader pushes Tories on housing
Aviation history is littered with grand failures - from the the Bristol Brabazon to Concorde - but what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?

Aviation history is littered with grand failures

But what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?
Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of Soviet-style 'iron curtains' right across Europe

Fortress Europe?

Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of 'iron curtains'
Never mind what you're wearing, it's what you're reclining on

Never mind what you're wearing

It's what you're reclining on that matters
General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

Marginal Streets project documents voters

Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

The real-life kingdom of Westeros

Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

How to survive a Twitter mauling

Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

At dawn, the young remember the young

A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

Follow the money as never before

Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

Samuel West interview

The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence