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May 18, 2012Contact: Jeff Walton 202-682-4131, 202-413-5639 cell
“The Chens may cause some people to rethink long held convictions. Some disturbances are good for the soul.”-IRD Religious Liberty Director Faith J.H. McDonnell
Washington, DC—Media coverage of blind Chinese activist Chen Guangcheng, who is awaiting a visa to depart China after escaping from house arrest and seeking refuge in the U.S. Embassy, has been extensive. But there has been little information about Chen’s activities that angered the Chinese government.
Called “the barefoot lawyer” because he practices law but has no degree, Chen went from village to village in Shandong Province collecting testimonies of tens of thousands of women who had been rounded up and forced to be sterilized or have abortions, even in the eighth month of pregnancy. He exposed some 130,000 forced abortions that took place in one year in that one province and filed class-action lawsuits on behalf of the victimized families. As a result he was sentenced to over four years’ imprisonment. Since his release he and his family have been under strict surveillance at home.
Chen was pressured out of the U.S. Embassy at suggestions that his wife would be beaten to death and his extended family would suffer. The activist’s trust in the Americans created a diplomatic nightmare for the Obama Administration, but supportive members of Congress held a hearing earlier this week and on May 3.
U.S. Representative Frank R. Wolf (R-VA) declared, “The most generous read of the administration’s handling of this case is that it was naïve in accepting assurances from a government that has a well-known and documented history of brutally repressing its own people under this government.”
After the State Department reported that Chen was free to apply for a visa to leave China, House Foreign Affairs Committee Chair Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL) warned “U.S. officials made a mistake by escorting Chen away from the safety of the U.S. embassy and into an uncertain fate. To avoid another harmful error, the State Department must press China to carry out its commitments. We cannot assume that this saga has been resolved.”
IRD Religious Liberty Program Director Faith J.H. McDonnell commented:
“Not many in the media or the Administration were eager to reveal that Chen’s crime was exposing the brutal practices of forced abortion and sterilization of Chinese women, and the “gendercide” practiced against baby girls.
“Kudos to Congressman Chris Smith for holding a hearing on the plight of Chen and the plight of millions of families in China. Surely, part of the Obama Administration’s uneasiness over Chen stems from the awkwardness of defending an anti-abortion activist.
“Chen will no more be silent about the issues of forced abortion and sterilization in China while in America than he was in China.
“The Chens may cause some people to rethink long held convictions. Some disturbances are good for the soul.”
The Institute on Religion & Democracy
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