Monday, August 15, 2011

Truman Show begins

For Chinese Activist, 'The Truman Show' Begins

AOL News

TAIPEI, Taiwan (Sept. 13) --
A famous Chinese rights activist, recently released after serving four years in jail, now faces constant scrutiny that human rights groups compares to a more sinister version of "The Truman Show."

Chen Guangcheng, 38, was let out of jail Sept. 9 only to confront a regime of round-the-clock video surveillance, constant plainclothes police presence outside his home and monitoring or blocking of his and his relatives' cell phones. If he is allowed to go anywhere, he'll have a plainclothes police "escort."

Such surveillance, called "soft detention" (ruan jin) in Chinese, is what happens to activists whom the Chinese state deems not dangerous enough for jail but too dangerous to be left to their own devices. The treatment can last years, even decades.

The methods are illegal according to China's own laws, Chinese lawyers and rights activists say, and show how far authoritarian China still is from protecting citizens' rights that now exist only on paper.

"Illegal detention; conviction based upon fabricated charges; unlawful imprisonment," said Li Fangping, one of Chen's lawyers, in a statement from the New York-based Human Rights in China. "The case of this blind rights-defense lawyer bears witness to the sad state of the rule of law and human rights in China."

Chen was blinded by fever as a small child, according to The Associated Press. He came to the authorities' attention for preparing a legal case on how local government officials in rural Shandong province, southeast of Beijing, allegedly forced some 7,000 women to be sterilized or undergo abortions as part of harsh "one-child policy" family-planning measures, Agence France-Presse reported.

Such measures have been taken before in rural, poorer parts of China, even as wealthy Chinese in places like Shanghai use their wealth, connections or both to have two or more children.

China instituted its one-child policy in the late 1970s as a population control measure, but it is applied very differently in different areas of the vast country. A Chinese family planning official said in 2007 that less than 40 percent of the population was subject to the policy.

Chen was put under house arrest in 2005 and taken into custody in 2006 on what Human Rights Watch called "trumped-up charges" of destroying property and inciting a crowd to disturb traffic. The latter charge came after his supporters rioted over the first one.

On Sept. 9, police escorted Chen back to his home in the village of Dongshigu. Associated Press reporters on the scene said local authorities installed six security cameras last week, and a dozen agents watched his wife go shopping.

His relatives' phone lines were blocked, and about a dozen plainclothes cops blocked the main road of the village with a van, six of whom ran after journalists who tried to enter the village, the AP said. "After a brief scuffle with the journalists, the men jumped into their van and chased the journalists' car at high speed as they left the area," the AP report said.

In an interview with Radio Free Asia, Chen said he had been beaten severely at the beginning of his jail time. "[The beatings] were really bad at the beginning -- extremely severe in 2007," he told RFA. "Now, apart from the diarrhea, I'm not too bad. But my voice went a couple of days ago."

New York-based Human Rights Watch said in a statement, "Chen should never have been imprisoned in the first place. We expect that his full freedom will be restored and that the harassment of his family will finally cease."

But some analysts were pessimistic, saying that Chen would more likely face indefinite monitoring by the government.

"I am deeply concerned that following his release, Chen Guangcheng will be subject to this new form of low-visibility punishment, including round-the-clock and endless isolation enforced by government-hired thugs," said Jerome Cohen, an expert on Chinese law, in the Human Rights in China statement. (See a 2009 YouTube video of Cohen discussing Chen's case here.)

Chinese media made little or no mention of Chen's release, leaving the Chinese public typically in the dark about the sensitive news. An Internet news search using his Chinese name turned up only articles from Falun Gong-affiliated sites based outside of mainland China, as well as reports from the BBC and Deutsche Welle's Chinese-language sites.

Falun Gong, outlawed by China as an "evil cult," keeps up a steady drumbeat of criticism of China's human rights situation through its affiliated media based outside mainland China. See below a report from the Falun Gong-affiliated NTDTV on Chen's case.

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