Chen Kegui, the nephew of prominent blind activist Chen Guangcheng, is to be released from prison today. But if the recent past is a guide, Chen Kegui’s return to his home village in Linyi County, Shandong Province, is unlikely to bring genuine freedom.
|Chen Kegui, nephew of blind Chinese
activist Chen Guangcheng, is seen in this
undated handout provided by Chen Ke
gui’s lawyer to Reuters May 22, 2012.
© 2012 Reuters
In April 2012, officials in plainclothes and without a warrant raided Chen Kegui’s family home late at night, apparently to intimidate the family soon after Guangcheng dramatically escaped his unlawful house arrest and fled to the United States embassy in Beijing. The officials severely beat Kegui, who defended himself with knives, injuring some. He was arrested on charges of “intentional infliction of injury.” His claims of self-defense went unanswered in a hasty, closed trial in which he had no access to his family or his lawyers. He was sentenced to three years and three months in prison. The United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, a group of international experts,ruled that Chen Kegui’s imprisonment was arbitrary and that he should be released “immediately.”
In May 2012, when Chen Guangcheng was finally allowed to leave China for the US, central government officials promised an investigation and accountability for those responsible for Chen’s and his family’s persecution “regardless of how high-level the officials may be.” Yet no publicly available information suggests that any of the officials involved in the vendetta have been fired, much less held legally responsible for the arbitrary detention, beatings, and torture of the Chen family.
While Chen Kegui has been in prison, his family in Linyi has endured ongoing harassment. Meanwhile, critics of the government – including Chen Guangcheng, human rights lawyer Gao Zhisheng, and Inner Mongolian dissident Hada – have emerged from prison only to face extraordinary surveillance and restrictions.
Since Chen Kegui was sent to prison, Chinese authorities have stepped up their assault on human rights. Beijing has been systematically trying to silence peaceful critics, anti-discrimination activists, criminal defendants trying to hold police accountable for torture in detention, and human rights lawyers.
All of these factors suggest that authorities won’t respect Chen Kegui’s rights post-release, that his freedom won’t really be free. The Chens’ story mirrors those of countless others: those who defend human rights are imprisoned on trumped-up charges, while their tormentors are comfortable in the belief that they will never be held accountable.