.- A bipartisan coalition of Congress members has sent a letter to U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, calling for government action to protect the family members of Chinese pro-life leader Chen Guangcheng.
“Chen Guangcheng and his family have suffered greatly at the hands of Chinese officials in Shandong Province,” wrote the congressional leaders.
“Their story is not unfamiliar but it is somewhat unique, in that it has garnered international attention, in part through Chen's heroic escape from house arrest, and shone a bright light on the consistent human rights abuses endured by the Chinese people,” they said.
The letter was signed by Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-Ohio) and Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), along with Reps. Frank R. Wolf (R-Va.), Joseph Crowley (D-N.Y.), Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.), James P. McGovern (D-Mass.), Christopher H. Smith (R-N.J.) and Rick Larsen (D-Wash.).
It recalled the escape of Chen from Chinese house arrest last year.
Blind since childhood, Chen became a self-taught human rights lawyer. He drew the attention of Chinese officials through his work to expose the government’s one-child policy and its frequent enforcement through forced abortions and sterilizations.
Chen was sentenced to more than four years in prison for his activism, and after his release in Sept. 2010, he and his family were placed under house arrest with no formal charges. He reported that he and his family were beaten during this period and were not allowed medical treatment.
The Chinese attorney gained international attention following his escape from house arrest to the U.S. Embassy in Beijing in April 2012.
Amid global pressure, the Chinese government promised to treat him and his family humanely and allow them to live in peace. Chen agreed to leave the embassy and was taken to a local hospital. However, he quickly voiced fears that China would not keep its promises and said that he wanted to come to the United States to be safe.
After being offered a fellowship to study law and learn English at New York University's law school, Chen was permitted to travel to the U.S. with his wife and two children. Unlike most Chinese families, Chen was allowed to have a second child because he is blind. Chinese policy includes an exception to the one-child policy for some disabled individuals.
Since his escape, Chen has continued to voice concern for his family members remaining in China. The congressional letter echoed these concerns.
“Most urgent is the dire medical condition of Chen Kegui, the imprisoned nephew of Chen Guangcheng, who is reportedly suffering from acute appendicitis,” it said. “His family is fearful that absent proper medical attention (which has been denied by Chinese authorities to date) his life is at risk.”
Furthermore, it said, “Kegui has been sentenced to three years in prison for defending himself against intruders,” and Chen Guangchen’s older brother has been beaten “in what seems like an escalating effort to intimidate and harm Chen Guangcheng's family.”
The lawmakers acknowledged that the State Department has “made the medical condition of Chen Kegui a priority in your discussions with Chinese government officials.” They urged department officials to continue working to send a strong message to the Chinese government that “this situation is of the utmost importance.”
In particular, the congressmen suggested that U.S. officials meet with Chen Kegui in prison and with Chen Guancheng and his wife in the United States. They also called on the department to seek medical parole and prompt attention for the imprisoned family member.
The State Department should also urge the Chinese government “in the strongest possible terms” to investigate the actions of officials and government workers who have allowed the persecution of Chen’s family to take place, the legislators stated, recommending that government workers involved in the mistreatment of the Chen family be denied U.S. visas.
“Regardless of whether any of these individuals intend to travel to the U.S., such a message to the Chinese government would be of great symbolic import,” they noted.
Stressing the need to act swiftly and with deliberation, the Congress members asked for a future “briefing by the State Department regarding the actions being taken regarding this situation.”