Case that will test commitment on rights
Beijing's handling of blind legal activist Chen Guangcheng's purported escape to the United States embassy in Beijing will test its commitment to improving human rights and adherence to the rule of law, activists and lawyers say.
Yang Jianli, a US-based mainland dissident, said Chen's ordeal was a typical case of human rights abuse and violation of the law.
After Chen escaped from his house arrest, he appealed to Premier Wen Jiabao in an online video to punish officials responsible for assaults on him and his wife. Chen also asked for his family to be protected from abuse by officials angered by his escape.
'Now this case is put in front of Wen Jiabao and he is put on the spot,' Yang said. 'It is a very decisive and critical moment, a watershed event.'
Wen has often spoken publicly on the urgency of enacting political reforms and the importance of universal values such as democracy and the rule of law.
Yang said if Beijing chose to resolve Chen's case in a humane way, it would indicate its willingness to improve on the human rights situation on the mainland. If not, the opposite would be true, he said.
Pu Zhiqiang , a prominent rights lawyer, said the local government in Linyi , Shandong , was 'sabotaging the rule of law' by confining Chen and his family to house arrest.
'This mode of 'stability maintenance' has come to a dead end and should be abandoned,' Pu said. '[Chen's escape] doesn't look bad for China ... if it's resolved then it's not a big deal.'
Renee Xia, international director at advocacy group Chinese Human Rights Defenders, said Chen's escape would likely push the central government to look into his plight. 'It is likely that Chen's escape will trigger a top-down investigation, particularly if this becomes a diplomatic incident.
'The fact that Chen Guangcheng, who is blind, managed to evade their internationally infamous incarceration tactics has not only caused the incompetent local authorities to completely lose face, but it has also jeopardised the 'stability maintenance funding' allocated for their thuggish acts,' Xia said.
Additional reporting by Priscilla Jiao