For those of you who live in the wrong hemisphere or don’t have a Twitter account, here’s the big news: Chen Guangcheng has escaped. According to activists, he is now somewhere “100% safe” in Beijing, though it’s not clear where. There has been some speculation that he might be inside some embassy; so far, the US Embassy has declined to comment and as far as I’m aware no one else has been asked.
The news of Chen’s escape is fantastic, and it’s important to note here that since Chen was released from prison years ago, there’s nothing illegal about this “escape”. The fact is that Chen and his family were being held illegally, and talk of Chen’s “escape” implies he’s guilty of some crime or evading the law in a way that might be misleading. But Chen is free, reportedly, and that’s a good thing. It should have been true years ago.
Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for Chen’s family, who are mostly incommunicado. Most concerning is the story of Chen Kegui, Guangcheng’s nephew. Yaxue Cao has written an excellent post and interviewed Chen for Seeing Red in China, so I highly recommend you read his full remarks there, but the short version of the story is this: Last night, thugs who did not identify themselves as police burst into Kegui’s home and began beating people. Kegui grabbed two kitchen knives to defend himself with, and probably after slashing some of them, scared the assailants away. Then, terrified, he called the police to turn himself in. While he was waiting for the police, he spoke with Yaxue Cao, and described his situation as clear-cut self defense. (If you speak Chinese, I highly recommend listening to the audio recording of this conversation).
Chillingly, the local government has since released this short news bulletin on the incident, via the Yi’nan County People’s Government Public Information Net:
On April 26, Dongshigu village resident Chen Kegui injured local government officials and staff workers with knives. At present, Chen Kegui has fled, the injured parties are being treated, and the local public security organs are on the hunt for Chen Kegui. The relevant parties will be dealt with according to the law.
That’s the entire report. Unsurprisingly, it mentions nothing of Chen Kegui’s motivations, or that the incident occurred within Chen’s home, which the cadres had entered violently and without warrants. Mentions of this report seem to be being deleted from Sina Weibo, but that likely doesn’t mean much. These will likely be deleted soon, but comments are pouring in on Sohu’s reposting of this story, and they seem overwhelmingly skeptical of the government’s official story, and very supportive of Chen Kegui:
Why would he stab them, why would a commoner want to go stab them, release the facts.
How can you not mention Chen Guangcheng? Please release the location and motive for this incident.
Why would he stab them? Please reveal the truth….
Too bad he didn’t stab them to death.
News items need to have some key elements. A news story like this, without head or tail [missing important details], is obviously covering something up, there’s no way for people to believe it. Does everyone believe in rumors? Because from the completeness of this story, it looks like most rumors are much more thorough than the official reports.
Sohu, please leave the comments up so that the officials in Shandong can see: the people [Chinese people] aren’t that easy to trick.
You’d better release the truth soon, or everyone will just hop the wall [circumvent the GFW] and find out even more truth, and that would be bad!
Is this [Chen Kegui] the hero of legend?
Good, stab these dogfucking rural cadres to death.
Well done citizen, I support you.
You [Chen Kegui] must stay safe. The common people won’t rat you out. These cadres are a band of tyrant thugs.
This is a true hero! The people support you!
Although this shouldn’t be much of a surprise to anyone, it’s clear from the report that the local government has already deemed that Chen’s actions were not in self-defense. It’s also probable that they’re lying about Chen Kegui having fled, as Chen himself says he called the police and was waiting for them while talking to Yaxue Cao. (And, indeed, fugitives intending to flee arrest don’t generally stop for half an hour to give phone interviews).
So, help from the local government is out of the question. Without intervention by some higher authority, Chen Kegui has no hope for justice. And Chen Guangcheng’s other family members may not be much better off, as they remain in Dongshigu village and reporters and activists haven’t been able to get in touch with them.
Will a higher authority intervene? Chen Guangcheng has already posted a video appeal to Premier Wen Jiabao on Youtube, and it has even been making the rounds on Chinese social media sites, although copies of the video are deleted swiftly when they’re discovered. But if the past ten years have taught us anything, it’s that Wen Jiabao talks a good game when it comes to political and legal reform, but he doesn’t do much of anything.
I will be following this situation as closely as possible in the coming days and weeks, and I strongly urge members of the foreign press as well as foreign diplomats to look into the case of Chen Kegui and find out what is happening to the other members of Chen Guangcheng’s family. The media spotlight will not necessarily help, but if the Linyi government is allowed to pursue its own interests in the Chen Kegui case without any sort of oversight, Chen is well and truly screwed.
(Side note: Now might be as good a time as any to remind readers that American film company Relativity Media has cooperated with Linyi officials, despite full knowledge of Chen Guangcheng’s situation, to film the buddy comedy 21 and Over in Linyi. Relativity Media should absolutely be held accountable for its cooperation with these people.)