WASHINGTON—Stalwart supporters of Chinese human rights in the U.S. Congress offered qualified criticism of the administration’s handling of Chen Guangcheng and expressed hopes for a positive resolution to the case in an emergency hearing on May 3.
On the other side of the Pacific top U.S. officials, including Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, had on the same day opened discussions in the Strategic and Economic Dialogue, a high-level forum between the country’s leaders that managed to go on despite the Chen news.
The blind self-taught lawyer Chen escaped extralegal house arrest on April 22 and entered U.S. custody on April 27. He is now in a Beijing hospital recuperating while the Chinese regime and U.S. officials try to broker a new deal, after a previous, tenuous compromise broke apart once Chen left U.S. custody.
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“The eyes of the world are watching to see his wishes are honored by the Chinese government,” said Chris Smith at the hearing, which was held by the Congressional-Executive Commission on China (CECC).
Smith said he was “gravely concerned” about Chen’s status and those of his supporters, noting that He Peirong, the activist who reportedly picked Chen up after his escape, remains incommunicado. She is thought to have been detained by communist security forces.
Frank Wolf, another prominent congressional advocate of human rights in China, said that the Obama administration was “naive in accepting assurances from a government that has a well known and documented history of repressing its people.”
Chen’s case is “symptomatic of the human rights abuses committed by the Chinese government against its own people,” Wolf said.
Administration officials have emphasized that Chen willingly left their care after receiving promises of safety and the opportunity of higher education by Chinese officials. In later interviews with media, however, Chen said that this deal was brokered with the threat that, had Chen not left the Embassy right then on May 2, his wife and children would be sent back to Dongshigu village, the site of the abuse Chen had just escaped.
After his escape, Chen said, he received word that local guards stepped up their efforts against his family, setting up an electric fence around the residence, installing seven video cameras inside, and sleeping and eating in the house. Chen was targeted after he exposed the violence associated with implementing the one-child policy in Shandong, including forced abortions and sterilizations.
The congressional hearing was held in the midst of the uncertainty surrounding Chen’s future, and participants pushed the U.S. to do more.
“The Obama administration has a high moral obligation to protect Chen and its family. To do anything less would be scandalous,” Rep. Wolf said.
Sophie Richardson, China Director at Human Rights Watch, wondered why top U.S. officials, including Secretary Clinton, Secretary Geithner, and Ambassador Locke, could not simply get in a car, drive to the hospital, and “insist on access to him.”
Secretary Clinton should make a public statement about her wishes for Chen’s case, T. Kumar of Amnesty International said. “Let the U.S. stand up, and let Secretary Clinton while she is in China stand up.”