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September 7, 2005

Chinese activist against forced abortion and sterilization "seized"

On August 27 I wrote about Guangcheng Chen, a blind peasant from Liying in Shandong province, who was slowly but steadily building a legal case against the city's blatant use of forced abortion and sterilization. The central government officially does not approve of such techniques as a means of enforcing the national "one child" policy, but in reality, provincial officials can be punished if centrally-determined population targets are not met, so it is actually not uncommon that they resort to such techniques to meet the targets.

Today's WaPo reports that less than two weeks later, Chen was "seized" in Beijing in a manner reminiscent of organized crime:
Several men in plain clothes grabbed Chen when he left an apartment building on Tuesday afternoon, witnesses said. The men did not identify themselves, and Chen resisted, shouting for help as they dragged him across a parking lot and pushed him headfirst into an unmarked car with tinted windows, the witnesses said.

A small group of people, upset by seeing the rough treatment, surrounded the vehicle and prevented it from driving away. As two men held Chen down in the back seat, he could be heard screaming and appeared to be in pain.

Residents called Beijing police. Two uniformed officers arrived, consulted with the men who had seized Chen, then cleared a way for the car to leave. The officers said the men who seized Chen were police from China's Shandong province, where Linyi is located. Tu Bisheng, a friend who was with Chen at the time, said local officials from Linyi were also present.

"We feel this is extremely inappropriate," said Li Heping, one of the lawyers working with Chen. He said the Linyi officials appeared to be "taking revenge on him for trying to protect the rights of local citizens and exercising his right to criticize the government."
The article mentions that provincial authorities are quite powerful, and often disobey the central government, but rarely so brazenly. Shandong officials knew that Chen had found some sympathetic ears in the central government, so they simply decided that he would not be permitted to meet with them.

In my opinion, we're witnessing but one episode in the slow, painful evolution of Chinese civil rights. Although many in the central government are sympathetic to his cause, it does not appear that any are willing to intervene on his behalf at this time. It's remarkable that Chen was allowed to carry on as long as he did; I'm certain that just ten years ago he wouldn't have dared to open his mouth in criticism.

In recent years China has taken its first few tentative steps toward creating a stable legal system that respects the civil rights of its citizens, but it may be a generation or more before we see satisfactory results. Much of that progress will depend on Beijing's ability to rein in local officials. Two weeks from now, I'd love to read in the WaPo that certain government officials in Liying have been arrested on charges of corruption and abuse of power. I have doubts that it will happen, but if it did, it would give me greater hope about China's future.

(Credit: Ray D.)

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