Blind Chinese activist Chen Guangcheng called into a U.S. congressional hearing Tuesday -- for the second time this month -- and asked the international community not to forget about his extended family members and friends suffering government harassment in China.
Chen was able to speak at the hearing through the iPhone of his friend, Pastor Bob Fu, who was testifying before the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Human Rights, chaired by Rep. Chris Smith (R-NJ). Smith has long been active on the Chen case and is determined to raise awareness about the plight of Chen's associates in China, as well as that of women in China facing abuse of the one-child policy through forced abortions and forced sterilization. Smith has accused the Obama administration of avoiding the very issues that landed Chen in hot water with the Chinese authorities.
At Tuesday's hearing, Chen related the story of his brother and sister-in-law, who are still trapped in his home province of Shandong and are still facing violent retribution from local officials due to Chen's daring April 26 escape from house arrest.
"I just want to talk about what happened to my other family members after I escaped from my home. On April 26, around midnight a group of local government thugs led by the local township leader raided my elder brother's home and started beating them violently," Chen said in Chinese, with Fu translating.
"My elder brother was taken away by these thugs without any reasoning and then they came back and started beating my nephew, using sticks, violently beating him up. For three hours, the bleeding on his head and face did not stop. It was so violent he had to defend himself."
Chen's nephew was arrested after the incident and has not been heard from since, though he has been accused of attempted murder.
"This charge against my nephew for intentional homicide is totally trumped up. To be charged with this in his own home when defending against intruders is totally irrational and unreasonable," Chen said.
He said that the local township leader in his family's hometown has led groups of thugs to harass his family and raid his home several times, so the recent action is part of a pattern. But the reprisal attacks since his escape have been especially violent.
"After my nephew was beaten up, he was waiting to surrender himself and the police came back again and violently beat up my sister in law," he said. "Right now I am not able to communicate with them anymore because all of their communication tools were confiscated already."
Chen's immediate family is doing fine and he is in contact with the U.S. Embassy every day, he said. But 10 of his closest friends and extended family have be arrested, beaten, or detained by authorities.
"I'm not a hero, I just do what my conscience ask me to do. I cannot be silent and cannot be quiet when facing these evils against women and children," Chen said.
In his opening statement, Smith said that Chen's application for permission had not yet been approved by the Chinese government and that he and his immediate family are now living under de facto house arrest in a Beijing hospital.
"With the exception of the half-hour each morning and afternoon that the children are escorted outside by one of the nurses, he and his family are not allowed to leave the hospital and no one is allowed inside to see them," said Smith.
"Chinese nationals are not the only ones prohibited from trying to meet Mr. Chen. The Foreign Correspondents' Club of China reported in early May that officials threatened to revoke the visas of foreign journalists who entered the hospital without permission," he said. "I would earnestly ask them not to forget Mr. Chen and his family, or his extended family and others who are risking their security and lives on his behalf. The story, unfortunately, is far from over."
Smith had invited Assistant Secretary of State Kurt Campbell and State Department Counselor Harold Koh to testify at today's hearing, but the State Department demurred.
"Given that sensitive diplomacy is ongoing, the committee acceded to the department's request to defer testifying on this matter until it is resolved," a senior State Department official told The Cable.
"I fully expect to have them at a hearing in the near future," Smith told The Cable in reply.