Chinese pro-life advocate Chen Guangcheng and his family have arrived safely in the United States, but reports indicate that his supporters may still be facing violence at the hands of Chinese government.
“America welcomes this extraordinary family with open arms,” said U.S. Rep. Chris Smith (R-N.J.), who greeted Chen upon his arrival at Newark Liberty International Airport on May 19.
Smith, who has held multiple hearings to raise awareness about Chen’s plight, said that after years of torture and imprisonment, he and his family will finally have the chance “to rest, recuperate, and recover.”
“His children can now begin the process of healing from emotional trauma no child should ever endure,” he added.
A self-taught human rights lawyer who was blinded by a serious illness in his youth, Chen had attracted the ire of Chinese officials by speaking out against the government’s one-child policy, which is often enforced through coerced abortions and sterilizations.
After spending more than four years in prison, Chen was placed under house arrest with his family in Sept. 2010. He was held without formal charges and said that he and his family were violently assaulted and refused medical treatment during this time.
Chen made headlines when he escaped from house arrest and was taken in by the U.S. Embassy in Beijing on April 26.
On May 2, he left the U.S. Embassy and was transported to a hospital in Beijing, amid promises by the Chinese government to treat him and his family humanely and allow them to live and study in peace.
However, he quickly voiced fears that China would not keep its promises to him and his family. He told American reporters that he wanted to come to the United States to rest in safety.
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.
Rep. Smith said that Chen is “among the bravest defenders of women’s rights in the world.”
"Not all the Chens are free and safe, however,” he warned.
Since his escape, Chen has expressed deep concern for the safety of his extended family members, including his 78-year-old mother Wang Jinxiang, who remained in the village after he and his immediate family had left. Wang is reportedly now being allowed to leave the family’s home without being escorted by a guard.
Chen’s older brother, Chen Guangfu, told reporters that he had been beaten and interrogated by government officials for three days.
He said that more than two dozen men broke into his house and began to attack his wife and son, Chen Kegui, who defended himself with a knife and was subsequently arrested.
Chen Kegui has been charged with “intentional homicide” and could face the death penalty. He is being held by authorities in Shandong province, where he has reportedly been prohibited from seeing his lawyers.
Although Chen Guangfu was eventually released, he is reportedly still under close surveillance and prohibited from making phone calls or leaving his village.
His wife, who was also detained, is being charged with “harboring a criminal.”
Reports also indicate that Chen’s cousin, Chen Guangcun, was taken into custody with his son on April 28. No information on their current status is available.
Chen’s friends and supporters have also reportedly been targets of government retaliation.
Several of Chen’s supporters were detained during “investigations” by authorities in the days following his escape, including He Peirong, who played a pivotal role in moving Chen to Beijing after he had escaped, and Beijing-based human rights advocate Hu Jia.
Hu’s wife, Zeng Jinyan, is reported to have been placed under house arrest by authorities.
Other supporters of Chen have reportedly been expelled from Beijing, including Teng Biao and Jiang Tianyong, both lawyers who advocate for human rights in China. Jiang had previously said that he was beaten by security personnel when he tried to visit Chen in the hospital, resulting in damage to his hearing.
In addition, at least two of Chen’s other supporters have recently been told that their passports were invalid, apparently in connection with their ties to Chen.
"Over the last several days, several of Chen's relatives and supporters have been arrested and brutally beaten as part of the Chinese government's refocused retaliation,” said Congressman Smith. “They can't beat him anymore, but they are beating his relatives and friends.”
“The Chinese government must immediately end its deplorable retaliation against Chen's family and friends who remain in China,” Smith urged.