One year ago this week, blind Chinese dissident Chen Guangcheng made his dramatic escape from his house arrest in Shandong, China—travelling 300 miles to seek help from the American embassy in Beijing. Guangcheng was imprisoned and later put on house arrest because of his work fighting for the rule of law in his country.
We didn’t fail him and America was at its best when diplomats brokered the deal that led to his safety.
Guangcheng, a self-taught lawyer, is now in New York studying law at New York University. When we honored him with our Human Rights First award last October, he raised concerns about his nephew Chen Kegui and the rest of his family in China who continue to be targeted by Chinese officials.
WATCH: Christian Bale Calls Chen Guangcheng “A Giant Among Men” at Human Rights First’s Award Dinner.
Hired thugs violently barged into Kegui’s home and attacked his parents last year after learning that Guangcheng had escaped his house arrest. They convicted Kegui of “intentional injury” last November for defending his family from the attacks. Now, he is serving a 39-month jail sentence and has been reportedly tortured.
The attacks are now extending to the rest of Guangcheng’s family as he continues to raise abuses by the Chinese government in New York. Chinese officials threatened to harm Kegui’s kindergarten-aged child last month. Now, local prosecutors have threatened his sister-in-law Ren Zongju, and a brother, Chen Guangjun, with criminal charges. Guangcheng believes that these threats are meant to silence him.
A Washington Post editorial notes that Secretary John Kerry has been raising the safety of Guangcheng’s family with Chinese officials, but adds that U.S.-China relations may be focusing more on economic goals than accountability.
Of course, it’s appropriate for Mr. Kerry and other administration officials to foster a cooperative relationship with Beijing wherever possible. But no “special relationship” is possible if China does not keep the promises it makes — or if the United States does not honor its commitments to people like Mr. Chen.
We agree. There will be no real stability in the U.S.-China relationship as long as the Chinese government continues to abuse the rights of peaceful dissidents and their families. America must put human rights first in its U.S.-China relations so that it can establish a healthy economic relationship.
Urge Secretary of State John Kerry to take immediate action on these reports and prevent further intimidation or harm to Chen Guangcheng’s family.