Chen Guangcheng: a drop in the ocean

The release from prison of prominent Chinese human rights lawyer Chen Guangcheng is a tiny drop in an ocean of repression in China.

But a drop is better than nothing at all.

Chen is relatively well-known as the blind, self-taught lawyer who's worked for poor rural people in their land disputes and over cases of forced sterilisation – earning the (rather romantic) sobriquet the “barefoot lawyer”.

Nothing romantic about his treatment by the Chinese authorities though. Already the subject of arrest and intimidation, in 2006 he was subjected to a two-hour sham trial (during which his lawyers themselves were yanked off the case and detained). Now, more than four years later, Chen has fnally been released but is even now reportedly subject to surveillance and movement restrictions at his home. See Shao Jiang's post for more detail.

I’m hearing from colleagues at Amnesty that Chen is OK following his imprisonment, but in a weak condition, having lost weight in jail. The BBC’s reporting that he’s suffering from “chronic gastroenteritis”.

Thanks to anyone out there who's taken action for Chen in the past (I know that hundreds of letters were sent via the Amnesty web appeal). And if you’d like to get a new message of support to him via Amnesty, please do (send an old-school postcard with your message – in English is fine – to our Individuals At Risk team, Amnesty International UK, 17-25 New Inn Yard, London EC2A 3EA. We’ll get them to him via our Hong Kong office).

A man like Chen is unlikely to be able to live freely in China – especially if he dares to resume his campaigning legal work – so it will be extremely important that human rights organisations and journalists monitor what happens to him in the future and quickly report any fresh persecution from the authorities.

Meanwhile, the ocean of repression in the People’s Republic continues to drag human rights defenders under. Please take action for one of these – Hu Jia here. Hu is the human rights activist (environmentalist, democracy campaigner, AIDS awareness advocate, supporter of the Tibetan antelope! ), serving a three-and-a-half-year sentence for “inciting subversion of state power” (one of those catch-all provisions in China designed to stamp on any “troublemakers”).

Hu was an Amnesty campaign focus when I was at the Edinburgh Festival in 2008. Sadly he’s still behind bars. My question to the Chinese authorities: any chance of another drop from your mighty sea?

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Our blogs are written by Amnesty International staff, volunteers and other interested individuals, to encourage debate around human rights issues. They do not necessarily represent the views of Amnesty International.
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