Police block supporters of blind Chinese activist Chen Guangcheng
Police in east China blocked a group of women in Shandong province from congratulating the family of rights activist Chen Guangcheng after the blind lawyer was awarded a US human rights prize, an organiser said on Wednesday.
Chen, who caused a diplomatic row in April after escaping house arrest in his village in Shandong province and fleeing to the US embassy in Beijing, was awarded the Human Rights First prize in New York on Thursday.
On Saturday, in Shandong’s Linyi city, up to 40 special forces police stopped five women from boarding a bus to Chen’s nearby village, where they had planned to congratulate his family, said Liu Guohui, an organiser of the visit.
“We were getting ready to board the bus, but all these special police surrounded us and took us into custody,” Liu said.
“We are all women, between the ages of 30 and 70. We have all been victims of [government-backed] forced evictions. We respect Chen Guangcheng for his knowledge of the law and courage to fight for justice.”
China’s special police forces are often used to quell riots.
The five women were released within 20 hours of their arrest. Liu remains under house arrest and is unable to leave home without the escort of official minders, she said.
Chen was sentenced to more than four years in prison in 2006 after exposing forced abortions and other abuses under China’s one-child population control policy.
He was freed in September 2010 but authorities placed him under house arrest during which, Chen said, he and his wife were severely beaten as punishment for speaking out.
His escape to the US embassy came ahead of a scheduled visit by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. China eventually allowed Chen and his wife and children to leave to study in New York.
Despite the heavy police effort to stop supporters, two rights activists made it to the village and handed over a banner congratulating Chen, said the dissident’s brother Chen Guangfu.
“The police stopped and searched their bus three times on the way here, but they didn’t recognise them and they got by,” Chen said.
“It is hard to believe in this day and age, that the special police forces have to take such drastic measures over an issue like this.”