The State Department has been silent about what it
will do about Chen Guangcheng, the
blind Chinese activist and self-taught lawyer reported
to have fled house arrest and sought refuge in the
U.S. Embassy in Beijing. But Chen had good reason to believe America was on his side.
Dating back years before his Thursday escape, the
State Department has repeatedly and publicly demanded Chen's release while
carefully documenting the Chinese government's abuses of him and his family.
Most recently, in a November speech in Honolulu,
Pacific Century," Secretary of State Hillary Clinton singled out Chen's
house arrest to complain about China's human rights practices.
"We have made very clear our serious concerns about
China's record on human rights," she said. "When we see reports of lawyers,
artists, and others who are detained or disappeared, the United States speaks
up both publicly and privately. We are alarmed by recent incidents
in Tibet of young people lighting themselves on fire in
desperate acts of protest, as well as the continued house arrest of the Chinese
lawyer Chen Guangcheng. We continue to call on China to embrace a different
Clinton raised the issue of Chen's treatment
directly with Chinese Foreign Minister Yang
Jiechi during their bilateral meeting that same day, according
senior State Department official speaking to reporters at the time.
Administration officials won't say anything right
now about Chen, shown at left above with dissident Hu Jia, as rumors fly that the U.S. and Chinese governments are having
top-level discussions about the case, which threatens to
disrupt Clinton's trip to China next week for a major security and economic
dialogue. The AP reported
that Assistant Secretary of State Kurt
Campbell was dispatched to Beijing earlier than planned to deal with the
At Friday's State Department press
briefing, Spokeswoman Victoria
Nuland repeated variations of the same phrase six times to avoid saying
anything substantive about the potential asylum case. "I don't have anything for you on
that subject," she said.
White House official repeated that same line on a Friday afternoon conference
call to preview Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihiki
Noda's visit to Washington on Monday. The State Department abruptly
cancelled a conference call to preview Clinton's trip to China next week.
at the briefing pressed Nuland to acknowledge that Clinton had spoken out
several times about Chen in the past, but Nuland refused to repeat past calls
for Chen's release or say anything substantive about his situation.
have anything for you on that subject," she said. "I don't have anything on
this issue at all."
The State Department has used Chen as a premier
example of China's human rights shortfalls, and several U.S. government reports
have documented what they see as the unlawfulness and unfairness of Chen's
imprisonment and house arrest.
In a press availability at the U.S. Embassy in
Beijing last April, Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Labor, and
Human Rights Michael Posner criticized
the Chinese government's treatment of Chen and said it was part of a much
broader pattern of oppression dispensed on those whose speech or activism run afoul
of the Chinese government.
"A particular concern is what seems to be a range of interferences with the
work of lawyers who are often courageously working to defend others from
charges or to help citizens register their concerns. Lawyers like Teng Biao who
has been missing since February; Chen Guangcheng, a blind lawyer who with his
wife Yuan Weijing is under house arrest since his release from prison last
year," Posner said.
"Our discussions these last two days focused on these lawyers, but also
bloggers, artists, NGO activists, journalists, representatives of minority
religious communities and others who were asserting their rights and calling
for reform... Societies need to give their own people an opportunity to voice and
pursue their aspirations."
In a January 2011 speech at the State Department,
Clinton pledged to advocate for human rights progress in China despite Chinese
government objections, and invoked Chen as a problematic example of Chinese
"America will continue to speak out and to press China when it censors
bloggers and imprisons activists; when religious believers, particularly those
in unregistered groups, are denied full freedom of worship; when lawyers and
legal advocates are sent to prison simply for representing clients who
challenge the government's positions; and when some, like Chen Guangcheng, are
persecuted even after they are released," she said.
"Now, I know that many in China, not just in the government, but in the
population at large resent or reject our advocacy of human rights as an
intrusion on sovereignty. But as a founding member of the United Nations, China
has committed to respecting the rights of all its citizens. These are universal
rights recognized by the international community."
The 2011 Annual Report of the Congressional-Executive
Commission on China detailed the conditions of Chen's confinement and treatment
by Chinese authorities.
"Hu Jia, a human rights and
environmental advocate, and Chen Guangcheng, a self-trained legal advocate who
publicized population planning abuses, were released from prison this year only
to face, along with their families, onerous conditions of detention and abuse
with little or no basis in Chinese law," the report said. "In Chen's case,
authorities kept him and his wife under extralegal house arrest and allegedly
beat them after video footage of their conditions was smuggled out of the house
and released on an overseas Web site."
Department's 2010 Human Rights Report on China alleges that Chen's arrest and
three year imprisonment was trumped up and politically motivated.
"On September 9, blind human rights lawyer Chen
Guangcheng was released after completing a prison sentence of three years and
four months on politically motivated charges of ‘disrupting traffic,'" the
State Department paper stated. "Since his release, Chen, his wife, and his
mother have been under house arrest and prevented from communicating with
others. Chen was not allowed to seek medical attention for a gastrointestinal
condition he developed in prison."