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From China, Blind Activist Testifies Before Human Rights Subcommittee

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Location: Washington, DC

Chen Guangcheng, the blind Chinese human rights lawyer who caught the attention of the world over the past two weeks in his bid to escape house arrest in China by seeking help in the U.S. Embassy in Beijing, testified via telephone about his well-being and that of his family and brave supporters Tuesday at a hearing held by Congressman Chris Smith (NJ-04).

"Chen Guangcheng is among the bravest defenders of women's rights in the world," Smith said. "Chen defended thousands of women from the ongoing, most egregious systematic state-sponsored exploitation and abuse of women in human history--pervasive forced abortion and involuntary sterilization as part of China's one child per couple policy--and has suffered torture, cruel and degrading treatment, unjust incarceration, and multiple beatings as a result."

"The sheer magnitude of this exploitation of women has been largely overlooked and trivialized by many--and even enabled. The United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) has for over 30 years supported, defended, and whitewashed the crimes against women and children Chen struggled to expose. That's why President Reagan and more recently President Bush defunded the UNFPA. In an indefensible reversal, the Obama Administration has provided approximately $165 million to the UNFPA."

After listening to a panel of witnesses testify on human rights abuses in China, Smith announced contact with Chen was made.

"Mr. Chen, you are on--welcome back," said Smith, Chairman of the House congressional panel that oversees international human rights. The event was broadcast live by CSPAN.

"I just want to talk about what had happened to my other family members after I escaped from my own home," Chen told the panel through a translator. "On April 26th around midnight, there was a group of thugs [of] the Chinese local authorities, [who] just broke into my home, and started beating them violently. And my elder brother was taken away by these thugs and without any reasoning, and then they came back and started beating up on my nephew, Chen Kegui. They used sticks and violently beat him up. For three hours he was bleeding on his head and face--it would not stop."

Smith likened Chen's confinement at a Beijing hospital to house arrest as Chen awaits documentation to travel to the U.S. with his wife and two children. He said the hearing was intended to focus on Chen's cause.

"Following his escape from house arrest, Chinese officials started breaking into the homes of his family in the same village and rounding up those who may have assisted him for interrogations," Smith said at the hearing. "When local officials and thugs broke into the home of Mr. Chen's brother, Mr. Chen's nephew, Chen Kegui reportedly tried to defend himself with a kitchen knife. He is now in a police detention center. I am extremely concerned for his welfare, as well as that of Mr. Chen's other extended family members. Now, eleven days later, Mr. Chen is still in the same hospital room, with his wife and two children under de facto house arrest."

When Smith asked him if the U.S. Embassy had been able to make contact with extended family and friends who are at risk, Chen said, "I'm not very clear on the specifics," but that the U.S. embassy has been communicating with him every day. "Because my wife and children have been under such a long time of difficulties with malnutrition, low blood pressure, when I see them under these circumstances, I felt very saddened.

"I want to extend my gratitude and thankfulness to all those who care and love my family and myself and our situation, especially to the American people who show they care about the policies and justice--those are universal values--I am very, very grateful to all of you," Chen said. "I'm not a hero. I am just doing what my conscience asks me to do. I cannot be silent. I cannot be quiet when facing this evil against women and children. This is what I should do."

The hearing, entitled, "Chen Guangcheng: His Case, Cause, Family, and Those Who are Helping Him," featured human rights leaders determined to assist Chen by speaking out at an open hearing of the Subcommittee on Africa, Global Health, and Human Rights.

In an unplanned live call-in to a May 3 hearing of the U.S. Congressional-Executive Commission on China, Chen testified by phone about his concerns. Within hours, the Chinese government announced that Chen could apply to travel to the United States. Chen is currently at a hospital in Beijing, still awaiting necessary travel documents. There is growing international concern about reports that Chinese officials are retaliating against his extended family and supporters.

As he did on May 3, Bob Fu, himself a former political prisoner and now Founder and President of the ChinaAid Association, made contact with Chen during the hearing.

"Recently, when lawyers Jiang Tianyong and Teng Biao tried to visit Chen Guangcheng in hospital, they were both beaten and Jiang lost the hearing in one ear," said Bob Fu. Fu told the panel that despite the fact that the two sides have reached a well publicized agreement on Chen's freedom and security, Chen remains under house arrest in hospital, and his visitors are barred, tailed and beaten. "Chen Guangcheng has paid an extremely heavy price to defend the rights of the disadvantaged groups who were the victims of coercive population control measures (mainly women). His conscience, courage and spirit has been like a light shining in the long dark night of China's human rights, and also inspiring people around the world who are struggling for human rights and justice."

Wei Jingsheng, a former political prisoner and today Founder and Chair of Overseas Chinese Democracy Coalition, cautioned the panel about the challenges when negotiating with the Chinese Communist regime. "They are only restrained by their interests, but not bound by their promises. That is because, fundamentally, they do not recognize common knowledge and reason, but only their great ideals."

Mei Shunping, who became pregnant a number of times but was forced to have multiple abortions at the hands of the Chinese government, testified to the brutality of the one child policy which destroyed her life and marriage. "In 1999, I escaped the country that humiliated and destroyed me, and came to the free soil of America."

Reggie Littlejohn, Founder and President, Women's Rights Without Frontiers, briefed the subcommittee on the treatment of two prominent activists who are supporters of Chen: He Peirong, who was instrumental in Chen's escape, and Jiang Tianyong, a key member of Chen's legal team. Both have suffered harassment. "Although Pearl and Jiang appear safe for the moment, who knows whether the Chinese Communist Party will retaliate against them once Chen comes to the United States," Littlejohn said. "Women's Rights Without Frontiers calls upon the United States Congress and the Department of State to raise the issue of the safety of Chen's supporters, who are heroes in their own right." Click here to read Ms. Littlejohn's testimony.

Tiananmen Square Massacre student activist and founder of All Girls Allowed Chai Ling also testified before the subcommittee.

"Incredibly, U.S. officials fretted about the timing of Chen's arrival at the Embassy," Chai said. "After he left, they downplayed his concerns for his family's safety. Several days ago, an American official casually told the New York Times: "The days of blowing up the relationship [with China] over a single guy are over.' Seeking genuine protections for Chen and his family should hardly have "blown up the relationship.' But more to the point, it grieves me to hear Chen dismissively referred to as "a single guy.' He is one man; it is true. But he is a symbol--a hero--in the eyes of women, children, and the poor in China."


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