Carl Gershman: Defending Human Dignity and the Rule of Law

Defending Human Dignity and the Rule of Law

Remarks made by NED President Carl Gershman in presenting the Oxi Day Award to Chen Guangcheng

Washington, D. C. October 25, 2012

I want to begin by thanking Andy and Mike Manatos for organizing this dinner, and for making it an opportunity to link a unique moment in the history of modern Greece with the universal cause of human freedom.

Like the Greek Prime Minister who said “No!” when the Axis forces demanded that Greece surrender, Chen Guangcheng did not seek to become a David resisting the might of Goliath. His work grew authentically out of his own experience and his convictions about right and wrong.

He began by defending his right as a blind person under Chinese law to be exempt from taxes, a right his local government did not respect. He then helped others defend their rights by knowing the law and explaining their case, and — if the government refused to comply with the law — helping them to file the case in court. He helped disabled people and orphans claim their right to a small state stipend, which is often not paid, and peasants to defend their land against confiscation by the state. He also exposed the massive use by the Chinese state of forced abortion and involuntary sterilization to implement its cruel and inhuman One-Child Policy.

These actions led to his systematic persecution by the Chinese authorities. Chen was first placed under house arrest and then imprisoned for 51 months. Instead of being released after serving his sentence, he was again put under house arrest. His home was surrounded on all four sides by cameras and lights. Police were stationed in his doorway and often inside his house. He was denied the use of a phone and visits from family or friends. He was prevented from listening to the radio or having books, pens and paper. Thugs were posted on the road to his village, stopping every car that approached his house and often beating people who wanted to see him.

Following the precedent set by Imperial China, the authorities persecuted Chen’s entire family – his wife, their small children, his mother and father, his wife’s mother and father, his brothers, and his nephew Kegui, who is now in prison for resisting the armed invasion of the farmhouse of Chen’s brother Gwangfu by what Chen has called “a furious pack of thugs.”

Chen did not stand alone during this long ordeal. Chinese of good heart have stood shoulder-to-shoulder with him despite facing certain personal harm, none of them more loyal than his wife Yuan Weijing, who is herself a genuine heroine. She helped him in his studies, with his work on neighbors’ legal troubles, and with all of his campaigns. And she has supported him through seven years of 24-7 persecution, harassment, threats, imprisonment and illegal home detention.

She was not alone in giving this support. An underground network of thousands of relatives, friends and supporters – all of them also David-like heroes taking great risks on Chen’s behalf – came together to make sure that Chen was not forgotten and that the world was aware of his plight. It was this network that made it possible for Chen, blind though he was, to travel hundreds of miles to the U.S. Embassy in Beijing after he had jumped over a wall at night to escape house arrest. His rescue has been called one of the largest human rights campaigns, with the broadest participation, that has taken place in China since the revolution in 1949.

It should also be emphasized that the number of Chinese who spoke up for Chen online was in the millions, with the massive, round-the-clock use of Twitter and other social media keeping the international community informed about Chen in real time and causing the censors to lose control of the narrative on the Weibo website.

Chen’s basic message has always been that China lacks not law, but the rule of law. He has warned that lawlessness is the greatest challenge facing the new leaders who will be installed in two weeks at the 18th Communist Party Congress, and that the political stability of China will depend on its ability to develop the rule of law in a system where it does not now exist.

For his courage in pursuing justice and saying No to injustice, and for his faith in the capacity of ordinary Chinese citizens to grasp the law and shape the future of China, the Oxi Day Foundation, in remembrance of the bravery that the people of Greece demonstrated seven decades ago when they resisted aggression, is immensely proud to present its highest award to Chen Guancheng.

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