Currently, Mr. Chen is the Distinguished Senior Fellow in Human Rights at the William E. and Carol G. Simon Center on Religion and the Constitution, a member of the the faculty of the Institute for Policy Research and Catholic Studies at the Catholic University of America, and Senior Distinguished Advisor to the Lantos Foundation for Human Rights and Justice.
Chen Guangcheng was born on November 12, 1971, in Shandong Provence, and is blind as a result of a fever during his early childhood. Mr. Chen graduated from the Qingdao High School for the Blind in 1998, and studied at Nanjing University of Chinese Medicine from 1998 to 2001. While employed as a masseuse in Yinan County, Shandong Provence, he audited law classes, becoming what is known as a “barefoot lawyer” — a self-taught legal activist.
Mr. Chen began taking on politically sensitive cases in 1998, including defending the economic rights of farmers, the rights of the disabled to free mass transit, and reproductive rights. As a result of his work, he has been illegally detained, convicted on the basis of fabricated charges in a procedurally flawed trial, unlawfully imprisoned, and subjected to harsh extra-judicial detention measures after serving his prison term. His wife has been subjected to threats, detention, interrogation, and limited freedom of movement while their home village of Dongshigu was placed under measures approaching martial law.
Mr. Chen’s best-known case, and the case that earned him the ire of Chinese authorities, resulted from his documentation of an official policy of forced abortions and sterilizations by Linyi municipal authorities. In June 2005, Mr. Chen traveled to Beijing to file a class-action lawsuit against the Linyi authorities. Although the suit was rejected by the court, he shared the results of his investigations on the internet and with the international press.
On August 12, 2005, Linyi authorities placed Mr. Chen and his family under house arrest. On October 4, lawyers Li Fangping and Li Subin, along with law lecturer Xu Zhiyong, attempted to visit Mr. Chen to negotiate an end to the enforced isolation. Police intercepted, beat, and interrogated them before escorting them back to Beijing. On March 11, 2006, police seized Mr. Chen at his home and disappeared him for over three months before formally detaining him on June 10, 2006.
On June 19, 2006, a group of Mr. Chen’s family, legal professionals, and activists attempted to hold a news conference in Beijing regarding Mr. Chen’s plight. Security police prevented the participants from leaving their homes, while a group of 10 unidentified men forcibly abducted Mr. Chen’s 70-year-old mother, 3-year-old son, and older brother from where they are staying in Beijing and returned them to their homes in Dongshigu village, Shandong.
Authorities repeatedly interfered with Mr. Chen’s legal representation. His lawyers, Li Jinsong, Li Subin, and Zhang Lihui, were given limited access to him and his family, and were attacked, threatened, and beaten. On June 27, 2006, a group of 20 men overturned Li Jinsong and Li Subin’s car as they attempted to return to Shandong to visit Mr. Chen, and Li Jinsong was detained and interrogated overnight.
Mr. Chen’s first trial date of July 17, 2006, was delayed in response to a gathering of Mr. Chen’s supporters at the courthouse. Officials rescheduled the trial for August 18, 2006. His lawyers were detained and prohibited from entering the courtroom, leaving Mr. Chen represented instead by a court-appointed public defender unfamiliar with his case in a trial that lasted only two hours. On August 24, 2006, he was convicted of “intentionally damaging property,” CL art. 275, and “gathering crowds to disturb traffic,” CL art. 291. He was sentenced to four years and three months in prison.
In response to Mr. Chen’s appeal, in October 2006 the appellate court annulled the conviction and remanded the case, although it did not make clear on what grounds. In December, Mr. Chen received an identical sentence, which was upheld on appeal in January 2007. While imprisoned, Mr. Chen was improperly denied relief on the grounds of his blindness, as well as the visits by family permitted under Chinese law.
On September 9, 2010, Mr. Chen was released from Linyi Prison, having served his full sentence. After his release, he and his wife were subject to harsh extra-judicial measures. Mr. Chen’s elderly mother was the only person allowed to leave and reenter their home; other visitors, who were at first subjected to strip searches, were not permitted after October 2010. Mr. Chen was allowed to seek medical help for ongoing health problems, and phone and cell phone service within the home was blocked. Mr. Chen’s hometown of Dongshigu was subject to martial law, with over 100 hired thugs monitoring all movements in and out of the village. Mr. Chen’s home was flooded with lights at night, and security cameras were installed inside and outside his home.
On February 9, 2011, a series of five videos appeared on the internet, in which Mr. Chen and his wife documented these harsh conditions. Mr. Chen asked, “Why is it that they are so afraid of me communicating with the outside world, so afraid that others will come to witness the current conditions? This just serves to illustrate that they recognize that everything they are doing is immoral and in violation of the law. … Under these conditions, we must overcome our fear, refuse to cooperate with these irrational demands, and refuse to accept their untruths. We must resolve to expose all of the injustices committed by the Party authorities that are unconstitutional, illegal, and in violation of international conventions. We must not remain silent.” Within a day of the release of the video, Mr. Chen and his wife were allegedly beaten until they could not leave their beds.
On April 22, 2012 Mr. Chen escaped house arrest and received refuge at the United States Embassy where it was confirmed on May 2 that he was under diplomatic protection from the U.S. On May 4, the Chinese government stated that Mr. Chen would be able to study abroad, and Mr. Chen immediately accepted an offer for a Visiting Scholar position at the New York University School of Law.
Mr. Chen and his family left China on May 19, 2012. Currently, Mr. Chen is the Distinguished Senior Fellow in Human Rights at the William E. and Carol G. Simon Center on Religion and the Constitution, a member of the the faculty of the Institute for Policy Research and Catholic Studies at the Catholic University of America, and Senior Distinguished Advisor to the Lantos Foundation for Human Rights and Justice.
Since then, Mr. Chen has published a memoir titled “The Barefoot Lawyer: A Blind Man’s Fight for Justice and Freedom in China”. He continues to advocate for human rights in China, and is now also a Distinguished Senior Fellow in Human Rights at the Witherspoon Institute. He resides in Washington D.C.
Last updated July 18, 2018
Human Rights Watch, ‘Chronology of Chen Guangcheng’s Case,’ Nov. 13, 2010, available at http://www.hrw.org/en/news/2006/07/18/chronology-chen-guangchengs-case.
Human Rights Council, Report of the Special Rapporteur on the on the situation of
human rights defenders, Margaret Sekaggya, Addendum, Summary of cases transmitted to Governments and replies received, ¶559-563, U.N. Doc. A/HRC/10/12/Add.1 (March 4, 2009), available at http://www2.ohchr.org/english/bodies/hrcouncil/10session/reports.htm.
Human Rights Council, Report of the Special Rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers, Leandro Despouy, Addendum, Situations in specific countries or territories, ¶74, 78, & 92, U.N. Doc. A/HRC/8/4/Add.1 (May 28, 2008), available at http://www2.ohchr.org/english/bodies/hrcouncil/8session/reports.htm.
Human Rights Council, Report of the Special Rapporteur of the Secretary-General on the situation of human rights defenders, Hina Jilani, Addendum, Summary of cases transmitted to Governments and replies received, ¶426, U.N. Doc. A/HRC/7/28/Add.1 (March 5, 2008), available at http://www2.ohchr.org/english/bodies/hrcouncil/7session/reports.htm.