Police harass dozens of blind activist's supporters
Scores of supporters of blind legal activist Chen Guangcheng were harassed, confined at home or warned to refrain from visiting him on his 40th birthday yesterday - a sign authorities remain as jittery as ever over his influence.
Chen made his name through defending the rights of women who were forced to have abortions when carrying a second child. He was persecuted for exposing the abuses and was jailed in 2006 for more than four years. Chen and his family have been confined at home and kept incommunicado since his release from jail last year, and could not be reached by phone yesterday.
Forty-four petitioners tried to visit Chen at his village in Shandong province but were detained by police in the early hours of yesterday, said activist Mao Hengfeng, who was among them.
Police intercepted their bus as it tried to reach Dongshigu village and they were detained inside the vehicle for more than 12 hours outside a local police station, she said. It was unclear what action was taken against them as calls to Mao and several petitioners last night were met with a message saying their phone service had been suspended.
A Lanshan district police station staff member said she was unsure of the petitioners' whereabouts. Mao, who has twice been forced to have late-term abortions, said she admired Chen's efforts to stop officials from using violence against pregnant women: 'He is the pride of Chinese people.'
Supporters who have tried to visit Chen in past months have been roughed up, beaten by thugs and detained by police, but many said they wanted to return on his birthday to show their defiance.
Several campaigners for Chen who planned to visit him were not contactable. He Peirong said she had been detained by police on Thursday evening and from early Friday to yesterday evening. And Liu Ping - detained repeatedly for trying to run independently in local People's Congress elections - was also held yesterday, along with about 10 activists, said other supporters.
A staff member at Chen's local Yinan Public Security Bureau hung up the phone when a reporter mentioned his name yesterday.
Many of Chen's supporters have shown their solidarity in the past week by changing their microblog profile photos to pictures of themselves wearing dark glasses, like Chen's. There are also online reports of his fans holding low-key commemorative activities.