Updated on April 30, 2013
Chen Guangcheng (陈光诚), a rural “barefoot lawyer” and activist from Linyi City, Shandong Province, escaped from illegal house arrest in Dongshigu Village on April 20, 2012. He was driven to Beijing and protected by activists and, after being hidden in several locations in the capital, eventually found safe refuge at the US Embassy, where he stayed for six days. In a video posted online on April 27 (English transcript here), Chen Guangcheng confirmed his escape, detailed the horrific treatment that he and his family have endured, and made demands to Premier Wen Jiabao to authorize investigations into the corruption and criminal acts committed by Linyi officials and to protect his wife, mother, and child.
By May 2, 2012, US and Chinese officials had reportedly brokered a deal whereby Chinese authorities would “guarantee” the safety of Chen and his wife Yuan Weijing (袁伟静) and two children, and would allow Chen to study at a university in China. However, when supporters of Chen spoke with him by phone as he was recuperating and being treated at Chaoyang Hospital (besides dealing with an illness, Chen had also broken his foot during his escape), Chen reportedly disclosed that he received word of a threat from Chinese officials for him to leave the US Embassy or else his wife and children, who had been brought to Beijing, would be sent back to Linyi. At Chaoyang Hospital, Chen’s wife indicated to her husband that she was physically assaulted at their home after his escape, and that Linyi authorities had threatened her with further physical violence if Chen did not leave the embassy compound.
Facing these serious circumstances, Chen and his wife expressed a desire to leave China in order to protect themselves, instead of remaining in the country under the conditions promised by Chinese officials. By May 4, 2012, a new agreement had been struck that would allow Chen, his wife, and their two children to go to the United States, where Chen would have the opportunity to study law. In the days just before and since the new arrangements emerged, Chen’s contact with US officials and his supporters was limited, with Chaoyang Hospital surrounded by police and phone calls to Chen abruptly cut off. And once local authorities learned of Chen’s escape, they retaliated by detaining several members of his family, and many of Chen’s supporters and others with a connection to his family’s plight have continued to face various forms of harassment and rights violations as a result of Chen’s case.
On May 19, 2012, authorities informed Chen Guangcheng to quickly pack his belongings since he and his wife and two children would be going to the Beijing Capital International Airport to depart for the United States that same day. Once at the airport, Chen and his family members were given the necessary travel documents and boarded a plane bound for Newark, New Jersey, and arrived on US soil in the late afternoon of May 19, 2012.
CHRD has confirmed these acts by authorities in the aftermath of Chen Guangcheng’s escape from house arrest, from the ensuing period when Chen was in the US Embassy and then Chaoyang Hospital and since his relocation to the United States:
Events in 2013
- On January 31, 2013, Chen Kegui’s parents and wife were able to see Chen for the first time since he was taken into custody in April 2012. They reportedly spoke for a half hour through a glass partition at Linyi Prison, where a policeman warned them that their conversation was being closely monitored and also recorded. In April 2013, the harassment of family members escalated, owed both to the one-year anniversary of Chen Guangcheng’s escape as well as the activist’s ongoing and public criticism of the Chinese government, particularly as he has pointed out the ongoing harassment of his family members–including the imprisonment of his nephew–which is widely believed to be a form of retaliation against him. On April 20, 2013, notices appeared in Dongshigu Village that branded Chen Guangcheng a “traitor” to China and posed death threats against Chen Guangfu. Around this time, Chen Guangfu’s home was pelted with rocks and other objects, and dead fowl were thrown into his home’s courtyard. (Police refused to look into these incidents.) On April 24, Ren Zongju and Chen Guangjun were again summoned by the Linan County People’s Procuratorate on the same suspicion as a year before–or “harboring a criminal” (Chen Kegui).
- After Chen Guangcheng’s escape, Dongshigu authorities began gradually dismantling the surveillance apparatus that was built up to monitor him and his family. However, it was learned in April 2013 that the village is being patrolled by a 14-member “security defense squad.” While officials have claimed that the squad “protects villagers’ property and safety,” it appears that its main purpose is to keep close watch over the Chen family as well as outsiders who contact them. On April 18, 2013, members of the squad roughed up and seized four Beijing residents, including the artist Xia Xing (夏星), after they found them filming near the home of Chen Guangcheng’s relatives. Some in the group were held by police for 16 hours and then forcibly sent back to Beijing. This coincided with a heightening of harassment against the activist’s family members.
Events in 2012
- In the early morning of April 27, 2012, Chen Guangcheng’s older brother, Chen Guangfu (陈光福), was taken into custody after his son, Chen Kegui (陈可贵) (see below), got into an altercation with guards who broke into their home nearby Chen Guangcheng’s residence. Though Chen Guangfu was subsequently released after two days, a reliable source within China has confirmed that Chen was tortured by police while in the custody of the Yinan County Public Security Bureau. Police chained his legs, beat him in the ribs, slapped him, whipped his hands with a belt, and stomped on his feet. Due to this violent treatment, Chen reportedly experienced–even weeks later–a loss of feeling in his left thumb and wrist, and numbness in his right foot. After revealing details of the torture, Chen Guangfu was threatened by Linyi authorities, who warned him that his son, Chen Kegui, would receive a harsher punishment in retaliation for Chen Guangfu’s revelations. Police also told Chen Guangfu that he would not be permitted to talk about the torture again, and later warned not to grant any more media interviews. On May 22, 2012, Chen reportedly escaped from Dongshigu Village as his guards slept, and made his way to Beijing to seek legal assistance for his son. Once in Beijing, Chen Guangfu met Ding Xikui (丁锡奎), one of the lawyers that Chen Kegui’s wife had hired to defend him (see below). According to a reliable CHRD source, Chen Guangfu also said that there now are even more guards around Dongshigu Village than before, when the number was already estimated to be greater than 100 during some periods. By early July, Chen Guangfu had received monetary compensation for a television that was destroyed during the home intrusion in late April, and one policeman was given a five-day administrative detention for his actions tied to the incident. These minor, seemingly symbolic acts are the first-known steps of legal redress taken in response to the widespread illegality against Chen Guangcheng and his family either before or since Chen’s escape from house arrest.
- Chen Guangfu’s son, Chen Kegui, was said to be injured on April 27, 2012, after he grabbed kitchen knives to defend his family against the intruding local officials and thugs. Among other actions, the intruders smashed a bowl of medicine that was being used to treat Chen Kegui’s five-year-old son, who was suffering from a fever at the time. Chen Kegui subsequently went into hiding before being apprehended by police. On May 9, officers from the Yinan County Public Security Bureau formally arrested Chen Kegui on a charge of “intentional homicide.” (Chen Kegui’s mother, Ren Zongju (任宗举), and an uncle, Chen Guangjun (陈光军), were also eventually detained, on charges of “harboring a criminal,” and later released on bail.) On November 30, 2012, Chen Kegui was tried in closed and flawed proceedings by the Linnan County People’s Court, which sentenced him to 39 months in prison for what many have viewed as direct retaliation against his activist uncle.
- On April 27, 2012, police reportedly entered Chen Guangcheng’s family home, where his wife Yuan Weijing (袁伟静) remained with the couple’s two children following Chen’s escape. After tying Yuan up and threatening her life, authorities subsequently brought Yuan and the two children to Beijing, where they have been able to see Chen at Chaoyang Hospital, a location designated by Chinese officials once a deal had been struck with US officials. Since coming to Beijing, the movements of Yuan and her children have been tightly restricted.
- On April 27, 2012, at least two other relatives of Chen Guangcheng—his cousin Chen Guangcun (陈光存) and Chen Guangcun’s son, Chen Hua (陈华)—were taken into custody in Linyi City. Another person unrelated to the family, Liu Yuancheng (刘元成), was also seized that day. These individuals were reportedly released by police after two days. On May 16, 2012, Chen Guangcun informed CHRD that he had been questioned by authorities, particularly about how Chen Guangcheng managed to escape house arrest. Chen Guangcun, who does not live in Dongshigu Village but in another location in Linyi, said he was not aware of the exact circumstances of his relatives there since he has been unable to contact them.
- Since Chen Guangcheng’s escape, members of his extended family in Dongshigu Village, totaling about a dozen people, are believed to have been under some form of illegal “soft detention” in their homes, and are being closely monitored while living in a state of extreme fear. The circumstances of Chen Guangcheng’s elderly, sickly mother, who was also held under house arrest with him, has often been unclear unknown.
- The netizen-activist He Peirong (何培荣), who drove Chen Guangcheng to freedom part of the way from Linyi to Beijing, went out of contact on April 27, 2012, and was reportedly released by police three days later. Shortly thereafter, she indicated that she was under restrictions not to communicate with anyone, though she reportedly was allowed to move about freely.
- Activist Guo Yushan (郭玉闪), a writer and researcher at the Transition Institute who told friends that he aided in Chen’s escape, reportedly was followed by police for days and then questioned. An interview he gave to Reuters on April 30, 2012, indicated that he returned home safely.
- The dissident Hu Jia (胡佳), who had seen Chen in Beijing after the lawyer’s escape, was summoned for questioning on the morning of April 28, 2012. Police extended the period of questioning from eight hours to 24 hours, and Hu subsequently returned home.
- From around May 1, 2012, police in Jinan City in Shandong questioned several activists about their knowledge of Chen Guangcheng’s escape, and warned them to not get involved in the matter and to not to leave their homes (see report in Chinese). These activists included Ni Wenhua (倪文华), Che Hongjian (车宏年), Zhang Jinfeng (张金凤), and Liu Guohui (刘国慧). (Liu is known to have tried to see Chen several times when the lawyer was under house arrest.) Police in Jinan City also told professor Sun Wenguang (孙文广) that he would be under strict guard for the foreseeable future, a restriction of movement that was believed to be partly related to Chen’s situation.
- On May 2, 2012, Beijing-based human rights lawyer Jiang Tianyong (江天勇) was prevented by guards at Chaoyang Hospital from visiting Chen Guangcheng, and he was forcibly taken away by police officers, who told him they were taking him “home.” At least five national security officers beat Jiang, damaging his hearing in both ears. Jiang was later released, but he was forced to leave Beijing and return to Zhengzhou in Hebei Province, where he is originally from, and national security officers told him to stay away from the capital until after the 18th Party Congress, which took place in November 2012, or else his family in Beijing would be subjected to “soft detention.” Once back in Zhengzhou, Jiang reportedly sought out further medical opinions on his left ear, which may have had a punctured eardrum, since officers chose the doctors in Beijing to evaluate Jiang and did not allow him to see other physicians. On May 4, 2012, two lawyers who had planned on taking up Jiang’s beating case, Pang Kun (庞坤) of Shenzhen and Wang Yu (王宇) of Beijing, were briefly taken into police custody in the capital and then questioned separately before being released.
- On May 3, 2012, activist and netizen Zeng Jinyan (曾金燕) was told by security officers in Beijing that she would be under house arrest “for the next few days.” Zeng went online to request that press not contact her, presumably for her own safety. Zeng provided some of the earliest details on Chen Guangcheng’s circumstances once a US-China deal had been made, and also shared information about his wife’s situation in Linyi after Chen’s escape.
- Several individuals were issued administrative detentions after trying to see Chen Guangcheng in Chaoyang Hospital, and police turned away countless petitioners who attempted to visit the activist. On May 4, 2012, Zhao Guangjun (赵广军), from Liaoning Province, was among a group of petitioners who went to the hospital, where they encountered layers of policemen guarding the building. Zhao was seized, taken to a black jail, and then brought back to his hometown of Panjin. Zhao was issued a 10-day administrative detention, served at the Panjin City Detention House. Activist Ning Jinxia (宁津霞), seized after failing to see Chen on May 4, 2012, and forcibly returned to Tianjin, was given a 10-day administrative detention the next day. The Nankai District branch of the Tianjin Public Security Bureau reportedly indicated that Ning was being detained for going to the diplomatic district in the capital. On May 5, 2012, police also prevented Li Mingcui (李明翠) of Henan Province and other petitioners in her group from seeing Chen, and took Li away after she reportedly spoke to a foreign journalist at the hospital entrance, and subsequently detained her in the black jail at Jiujingzhuang.
- Several individuals who have tried to provide legal aid to Chen Kegui (see above) and his wife, including a group of about a dozen lawyers, have come under pressure from authorities to cease their efforts, or otherwise have encountered interference. Liu Weiguo (刘卫国), the lawyer authorized by Chen Guangcheng’s wife, was warned not to go to Linyi to help Chen Kegui and not to talk to foreign media. Guangzhou lawyer Chen Wuquan (陈武权) said that the Guangzhou Lawyers Association took his lawyers license for “investigation” after he publicly announced his desire to assist Chen Kegui. The lawyer has since faced continued obstacles to obtaining renewal of his license and gaining employment. In addition, legal advocate Song Ze (宋泽), a volunteer for the Constitution Initiative (Gongmeng), was criminally detained on May 5, 2012, in Fengtai District in Beijing on suspicion of “creating a disturbance,” and a space that Song rents in Beijing was reportedly searched by the police. Song is said to have tried to help the wife of Chen Kegui to get to Beijing after she went into hiding and was searched by police after hiring a lawyer for her husband. In late May 2012, authorities twice prevented human rights lawyer Liang Xiaojun (梁小军) from seeing Song, who Liang intended to represent. The blocking of Liang’s attempts to visit Song violates the Article 33 of China’s Lawyers Law, which protects the right of an attorney to visit a client. In December 2012, Song’s family confirmed that he had returned home but was being prohibited by authorities from contacting anyone.
- In mid-May 2012, Shandong authorities told Ding Xikui (丁锡奎), among the lawyers trying to defend Chen Kegui, that Chen Kegui had been appointed two lawyers from the Yinan government-run legal aid center, and that Ding could not take up the case since Chinese law only permits two attorneys per criminal suspect. The lawyer Si Weijiang ( 斯伟江) also received the same information from authorities, according to a CHRD source. Police also provided other reasons as to why the lawyers could not be authorized to defend Chen. Later in May, Ding wrote a letter on behalf of both himself and Si addressed to the chief of the Yinan County PSB, challenging the legality of authorities’ disallowing the two lawyers from meeting with Chen and representing him. CHRD published and distributed a summary of the letter, with the original Chinese text, on May 22, 2012.
- Shandong netizen Zhao Wei (赵未), a supporter of Chen Guangcheng, had his passport declared invalid by the Exit-Entry Administration Department of the Liaocheng City Public Security Bureau, a decision apparently made due to Zhao’s loose association with Chen and the ongoing investigation of Chen’s nephew, Chen Kegui (see above). Zhao had held up banners supportive of Chen Guangcheng with other netizens in Linyi People’s Square on December 7, 2012. Zhao is the second person—along with Liu Guohui (see above)—believed to have had a passport invalidated due to a remote linkage with Chen’s case. Another netizen who took part in the December activity with Zhao, Lu Haitao (卢海涛) of Beijing, has faced incessant police interrogation and, in June 2012 was pressured by his landlord to vacate his residence in the capital, shortly after going to see Chen Guangcheng’s family members in Shandong. In a tragic turn of events, Lu’s wife, Yang Lanlian (杨兰连), reportedly suffered a miscarriage on May 12, 2012, after being harassed and summoned by police for days and after feeling extreme fatigue and fear.
Chen Guangcheng has campaigned for the rights of villagers and the disabled, providing free legal consultation to these groups, and is best known for his work on behalf of victims of forced sterilization and abortions as part of government efforts to implement birth quotas in Linyi City. See more information here about Chen’s human rights advocacy efforts as well as details about his past trial, sentencing, and house arrest.
Learn more below about CHRD’s research and advocacy work related to Chen Guangcheng.
CHRD Reports on Chen Guangcheng & Related Human Rights Issues:
CHRD Press Statements & Urgent Actions Related to Chen Guangcheng:
CHRD Submissions to UN Special Procedures on Chen Guangcheng: