The escape of Chen Guangcheng, a human rights advocate who opposed China’s brutal one-child policy, is resulting in calls for the U.S. to protest human rights abuses within the communist country.
“This is a test of Premier Wen’s commitment to fundamental human rights, the rule of law, and common decency,” said Congressman Chris Smith (R-N.J.), who chairs a U.S. House subcommittee on human rights.
“It is also a test of America’s resolve to safeguard human rights whenever and wherever those rights are violated.”
Chen Guangcheng, who was blinded by a childhood illness, is a human rights lawyer who has spoken out strongly against China’s one-child policy, which is often implemented through forced abortion and sterilization.
After spending more than four years in prison, Chen was placed under house arrest in Sept. 2010 without formal charges.
News reports indicate that he has escaped house arrest and is currently under U.S. protection in Beijing, although both President Barack Obama and the U.S. State Department have declined to comment on the situation.
Chen Guangchen’s flight from his home in the village of Dongshigu began with him feigning severe illness and an inability to move about two months ago, the Associated Press reports. He fled his home on the night of April 22 and managed to walk several hours, before activist He Peirong gave the exhausted and battered escapee a ride in her car.
News of the escape broke just days before U.S. Secretary of State Hilary Clinton and other diplomatic officials were scheduled to travel to China for meetings on May 3 and 4.
Clinton drew criticism in 2009 when she said that human rights concerns should not “interfere” with U.S.-China cooperation on economic, environmental and security issues.
But Rep. Smith said that the numerous U.S. leaders traveling to the country might be a “gift.” He emphasized the need to “push for human rights like never before.”
Presumptive Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney also called on U.S. officials to “take every measure to ensure that Chen and his family members are protected from further persecution.”
“This event points to the broader issue of human rights in China,” said Romney in an April 29 statement.
He explained that U.S. policy towards China “must confront the facts of the Chinese government’s denial of political liberties, its one-child policy, and other violations of human rights.”
Although he is “extremely pleased” by news of the escape, Smith said that he remains “extremely concerned” about the safety of Chen’s family members and friends.
Reports suggest that several of his relatives and friends have been arrested or subjected to harsh treatment since his escape.
The Texas-based human rights group ChinaAid has posted an online video of Chen confirming his escape and discussing his “brutal treatment” by the authorities, which he described as “even harsher” than the stories that have been circulating about him.
Chen said that over the past years, he has been beaten, robbed and refused medical attention. He and his wife and elderly mother have all been violently assaulted on multiple occasions, he said.
In the video, Chen asked Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao to investigate and punish those responsible for the corruption involved in his abuse and home arrest. He also asked that the safety of his family be guaranteed.
Smith said these demands are “reasonable” and should be reiterated by the United States.
He also asked Secretary of State Clinton to engage in ongoing discussions with the Chinese government on the broader issue of human rights.
“The cruelty and extreme violence against Chen and his family brings dishonor to the government of China and must end,” Smith said.