The great escape - Chen Guangcheng flees house arrest

Chen Guangcheng, the blind human rights activist and long-time Amnesty case, has escaped from house arrest in a dramatic bid to end the imprisonment and the severe harassment he has been subjected to for a year and a half.

A self-taught legal activist, Chen became internationally known after he exposed widespread forced abortion and sterilisation practices by authorities in Linyi, County, Shangdong province in the name of implementing China’s population control policy.

The authorities retaliated by sentencing him in 2006 to more than four years in prison on charges of “damaging property and assembling a crowd to disrupt traffic”.  Amnesty International considered him to be a prisoner of conscience.

Upon his release in September 2010, Chen and his family were immediately placed under illegal house arrest in his home village of Donshigu in Linyi.

Visitors attempting to see Chen while under house arrest told media they were beaten, robbed of their possessions, and driven away from the village with bags over their heads. In one famous attempt to visit the blind activist, Batman actor Christian Bale and a CNN television crew accompanying him were roughed up by a local guard.

Last year, Chen and his wife were beaten by plainclothes officials in retribution for releasing video footage about the restrictive conditions of their house arrest.

But not to be deterred, Chen has today produced a video message in which he says he has “finally escaped”,  and talks of the abuse his family suffered under house arrest. He says his captors had beaten his wife so badly they broke a bone near her left eye but would not allow her to seek medical treatment. They also beat his mother. Chen Guangcheng said his daughter is followed each day by three people who search her school bag.

He added that he feared for the safety of his family, including his wife, Yuan Weijing, and his young daughter, both of whom he presumed were still held captive and could become targets for "revenge" by the authorities.

According to the US based China Aid Association, Chen Guangcheng escaped from his home in Shandong province earlier this week with the help of several friends. Today the group said the activist was at a “100 percent safe location” in Beijing.

Amnesty International has urged China to ensure his safety and that of his family and friends.

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