Extralegal Detention of Chen Guangcheng
For my final post as a guest blogger for October, I wanted to draw people’s attention to a hearing that the Congressional-Executive Commission on China is holding in DC tomorrow titled “Examination into the Abuse and Extralegal Detention of Legal Advocate Chen Guangcheng and His Family.” As described by the Commission, “Chen is a self-trained legal advocate who has represented farmers, the disabled, and other groups. He is perhaps best known for the attention he drew to population planning abuses, particularly forced abortions and forced sterilizations, in Linyi city, Shandong province, in 2005. In deeply flawed legal proceedings, authorities sentenced him in 2006 to four years and three months in prison for, among other things, ‘organizing a group of people to disturb traffic order.’ While imprisoned Chen was reportedly beaten by fellow inmates and denied medical treatment. Following his release in September 2010, Chen, his wife Yuan Weijing, and their six-year-old daughter have faced stifling conditions of home confinement and constant surveillance.” I discussed Chen’s case at an earlier Commission roundtable on the challenges facing human rights defenders and lawyers in China.
Chen has been in the news as people from around China have attempted, unsuccessfully, to visit him at his home. The PRC Government’s concern that Chen is receiving increasing attention is reflected in the decision to ban keywords related to his name on micro-blog sites, as reported here by China Digital Times. Although Internet censorship certainly is not new to China, government officials have recently emphasized the need to regulate micro-blogs like Sina Weibo, as reported by the Wall Street Journal.
While the extra-legal detention of Chen carries on, debate also continues regarding pending reforms to the PRC Criminal Procedure Law, which are expected to pass into law next spring. The National People’s Congress received approximately 70,000 comments on the draft during a one-month comment period. Domestic and foreign commentators have particularly focused on provisions regarding residential surveillance (i.e., the ability for police to restrict people to a location, not necessarily people’s own residences, while they are being investigated), as further explained by Prof. Donald C. Clarke of George Washington Law in his blog here. Chen has completed his prison sentence and, at least based on public reports, he is not being held as part of an investigation for additional crimes. The current restrictions on the liberty of Chen and his family unfortunately highlight the limits of law as a constraint on government action in China today.