WASHINGTON – Several protesters were arrested outside the White House today while lobbying the president for help for Chen Guangcheng, the blind Chinese attorney and human rights activist who gained international attention for exposing the brutality of his government’s one-child policy.
A crowd of “Free Chen” demonstrators prayed and urged Barack Obama to provide asylum to Chen and his family. Some 35 minutes into their prayer vigil, U.S. Park Police set up yellow-tape barriers and ordered everyone, including the demonstrators, tourists, workers on lunch break and journalists, to get off the sidewalk and go across the street to Lafayette Park.
Several demonstrators who refused to leave were arrested.
Chen has been working with the help of his wife, Yuan Weijing, to expose the brutality of China’s one-child policy. They have revealed that Chinese officials abduct pregnant mothers; abort their unborn babies; and sterilize the women.
After years of living under house arrest, reportedly harassed and guarded by some 90 Chinese officials, Chen escaped over a high fence and, with the help of friends, went to the U.S. embassy in Beijing on April 22.
The New York Times quoted one of his supporters, who described Chen getting past layers of guards and over a wall in the dark of night. “‘You know he’s blind, so the night to him is nothing,’ Mr. Ai said the friend told him. ‘I think that’s a perfect metaphor.’”
However, just prior to Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton’s arrival in Beijing for an unrelated diplomatic visit this week, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for East Asia and Pacific Affairs Kurt Campbell and U.S. Ambassador to China Gary Locke walked Chen out of the embassy and sent him to a hospital.
Chen had been injured during his escape journey and he said he was told by Chinese officials they had captured his wife, they had beaten her for two days, and they would beat her to death if he didn’t leave U.S. custody.
Rev. Rob Schenck of Faith and Action and Rev. Patrick Mahoney of the Christian Defense Coalition called for prayer vigil at the White House in response. Schenck wasn’t in Washington for the vigil, but said in his online announcement, “I’m gravely concerned and deeply saddened … What so distresses and alarms me is the cowardly way the administration sold out a hero of the faith. I’m speaking about Chen Guangcheng, the blind dissident in China who first revealed to the public the abhorrent practice of forced abortions and sterilization to sustain China’s ‘one child’ policy.”
*On Saturday, Clinton left China without Chen and it remains to be seen whether the State Departemnt will champion his cause.
The Chinese Government stated today that Mr. Chen Guangcheng has the same right to travel abroad as any other citizen of China. Mr. Chen has been offered a fellowship from an American university, where he can be accompanied by his wife and two children.
The Chinese Government has indicated that it will accept Mr. Chen’s applications for appropriate travel documents. The United States Government expects that the Chinese Government will expeditiously process his applications for these documents and make accommodations for his current medical condition. The United States Government would then give visa requests for him and his immediate family priority attention.
This matter has been handled in the spirit of a cooperative U.S.-China partnership.