It is a harrowing catalog of abuse. In the video, Chen describes how half a dozen men broke into his house, pinned down his wife and “wrapped her in a blanket, beating and kicking her for hours.” He recounts how Zhang Jian, the deputy Communist Party secretary in charge of law enforcement in his Shuanghou township, told him explicitly that he would not enforce the law and even led mobs to Chen’s house to attack and rob him. He estimates that the government uses nearly 100 policemen and seven layers of security to keep him under constant watch. But what is most moving about Chen’s video appeal is the modesty of his requests. “I implore the Chinese government to ensure the safety of my family according to the principles of upholding the rule of law,” he says in the video.
Even this is asking too much of the government, however. Angered by Chen’s escape, the government is now cracking down on his family and fellow dissidents. His wife, his elderly mother, and his six-year-old daughter have reportedly been rounded up in retribution for his escape. Chen’s nephew is on the run after scuffling with security officials who invaded his home. A crackdown is also underway on Chen’s supporters. Blogger and activist He Peirong, who apparently drove the getaway car in which Chen fled to Beijing, is one of several supporters who has been rounded up and placed under arrest. There are rumors that she has been beaten in custody and growing concerns about her safety. The government for its part has tried to censor any discussion of Chen’s case, banning Web searches for keywords like Chen’s name and even the words “blind person.”
Still unsettled is how the Obama administration will respond to the situation. Providing Chen with protection, even if unofficially, is a welcome first step, but it’s not clear where the administration will go from here. John Brennan, the Obama administration’s counter-terrorism advisor, has sent mixed messages. The administration, he said, intends to “balance our commitment to human rights” with its intention to “continue to carry out our relationships with key countries overseas.” Where that leaves Chen, who wants to remain in China, is uncertain. What is certain is that abandoning him to the whims of the Chinese government would leave an abiding stain on the administration’s foreign policy.
Whatever happens to Chen, he has already been an inspiration. Never yielding to his physical limitations, he has time and again forced the communist regime to answer questions about the treatment of its citizens that it would prefer to suppress. It’s no wonder that China’s political dissidents have spent recent days celebrating his escape. As one of them put it, “There are many people now drinking toasts to him for the way he broke through his captivity, his difficulties, and pursued freedom. If a blind person can break out of the darkness to freedom, then everyone can.”
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