The blind activist who aroused the world
It’s amazing how the mood of the international community following the unfolding events of the incredible story of blind activist Chen Guangcheng’s escape to freedom could change from delight to devastation in less than eight hours.
Chen, the blind self-taught human rights lawyer and activist, escaped house arrest in the dark night of April 22, fleeing to the US Embassy in Beijing. That alone is incredible enough. Then, after days of undisclosed negotiations between the US and Chinese governments, Chen finally stepped into the public again on May 2, as he left the embassy with the US Ambassador Gary Locke to Beijing’s Chao Yang Hospital to ‘reunite with his family’, seemingly under a deal that would see Chen safely remain in China.
A sigh of collective relief was felt across the world, but many China-watchers remained sceptical – and with good reason.
Around 10pm the same day, startling reports came flooding in that Chen said the embassy staff relayed threats from the Chinese government that if he didn’t leave the embassy at once, Chinese officials would have arrested his wife and, quote, ‘beaten her to death’. Chen, who has always wanted to remain in China, now no longer felt safe.
He begged the media to inform the US Embassy that he was ‘absolutely ready to fly out on Hilary Clinton’s plane’. Tellingly, the US embassy staff who had promised to stay at his side, vanished from the hospital. Things then turned ominous.
Naturally, the embassy and Clinton denied they had relayed the threats, and it’s unlikely that President Obama will explicitly weigh-in on the affair, yet it did make the Obama administration look toothless if the reports of what Chen had said were true. (Note: there is no absolute proof of anything as yet.)
At the time of writing, an embarrassed Whitehouse had still to make any official comment on the immediate future of ‘the barefoot lawyer’, even though the Chinese media has gone into overdrive defaming ‘the abnormal Chen Guangcheng’. The Politburo said that Chen could possibly study abroad ‘like other Chinese citizens’, but what exactly did China’s Foreign Ministry mean when they said those responsible will be ‘severely punished’? Now the two countries have cast the first stone, but at the heart of the matter is a poor, blind, self-educated man asking for common human decency. And for those who helped this genuine hero escape, there are no promises, no words, no hope for them at all. Charlotte Fan