WASHINGTON — Chen Guangcheng, a Chinese dissident who escaped from house arrest in April 2012, testified in person before Congress for the first time Thursday about China’s human rights violations.
Guangcheng, a human rights lawyer, was granted permission to stay in New York after fleeing to the U.S. Embassy in Beijing from his home in the middle of the night a year ago. In his testimony Tuesday, Guangcheng detailed the torture that his family endured after the Chinese Communist Party found out that he had escaped, despite the government’s promises that it would not harm his family.
The congressional panel was led by Rep. Chris Smith, R-N.J., a senior member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee and chairman of its subcommittee on global human rights.
“I hereby urge the U.S. government to demand the Chinese communist leaders to do as they promise,” Guangcheng said through a translator in a prepared statement to the panel.
In what Guangcheng sees as a clear retaliation to his escape, his nephew was kidnapped by the government and has been imprisoned after assaulting the Chinese official who broke into his home. The nephew has been threatened with life in prison if he tries to appeal. Other members of Guangcheng’s family have escaped attempted kidnappings and endured government torture. “You can see by these human rights defenders’ children being taken that it’s a planned incidence,” he said.
Guangcheng also submitted to the panel a list of names of Chinese officials who have “continuously in the past hurt me and my family.”
“If they had committed a crime, they must be held accountable,” he said, adding that when the Chinese Communist Party breaks its human rights promises, it is up to the United States and the global community to step in.
Guangcheng, who has been blind since childhood, first started as a human rights lawyer by advocating for local people with disabilities, then for women who were victims of forced abortions through China’s one-child system. As he gained popularity among Chinese activists, he also gained notoriety within the communist government.
Guangcheng was placed under house arrest in 2005 after bringing a class-action lawsuit against the Chinese government for brutal enforcement of the one-child policy. He was sentenced to 51 months in jail, where he was tortured for “several thousand hours,” he said.
It was during an extended period of house arrest after his served jail time that he escaped to the U.S. Embassy in Beijing.
Bob Fu, a pastor and president of ChinaAid, an international non-profit Christian human rights organization, also testified at the hearing. Last April, after Guangcheng’s escape, Fu helped set up a phone call that allowed Guangcheng to speak in an emergency hearing with Smith.
“Do we have to wait another 10 years before we see improvements in China’s human rights record and rule of law?” Fu asked. He focused much of his testimony on the “330 million abortions” performed on Chinese women, many of which are forced, and the country’s pervasive Internet restrictions.
“We want to push down Beijing’s Internet Berlin Wall,” he said. “I think when the Internet Berlin Wall falls . . . democracy in China will come sooner.”