The Tale of an Activist
China has of late been in the news. Predictably, this time too, human rights violation has made this steadily growing country newsworthy. The epicentre of the issue is Chen Guangcheng, a 40-year-old blind lawyer and activist in Shandong province. Chen was leading a battle against the province administration led by Li Qun, party secretary of Linyi-a village in the province, over the forced adoption and sterilization which was practiced in almost all provinces in China as a follow up of the Beijing’s population control measures. That a blind man leads struggle against a mighty empire got much press especially from the western media.
Li Qun is an influential leader in the Chinese Communist Party. As Hu Jintao, the incumbent Chinese President, had once been, Li shows eligibility at the province level to become a promising future leader. Irked by the involvement of Chen in the anti-abortion campaign, a group of men reportedly took hold of Chen at Beijing and brought back to Linyi in Shandong. He is said to be manhandled and assaulted on the way. In Linyi a cordon was erected around his home which was fast rendered into a prison. Chen underwent rigorous treatment from the authorities. It is reported that lawyers and visitors, who came to his aid, were stopped and intimidated. The house arrest went on until Chen escaped the cordon and fled to the city to take refuge in the US Embassy.
Chen spent six days under the American protection in Beijing. On May 2nd, he was taken out from the embassy for medical help. Beijing offered all help to the blind activist, including the facilitation of a safe return. Days after he had come out of the American protection, Chen accused the Chinese government of backtracking. He alleged that, instead of taking action against Li Qun, who is involved in the whole issue, the Chinese Government tried to protect and promote him. Li Qun is now one of the most powerful officials in Shandong.
The whole issue happened at the backdrop of the annual Strategic and Economic dialogue between Washington and Beijing. US Secretary of States Hillary Clinton, who represents Washington in the two-day event, touched on the Chen issue and asked the Beijing to ensure safety to the blind activist. But western media, including the Economist which covered the issue on May 5th, were critical of the stance of the US which strategically overshadowed the issue to give prominence to the dialogue. This stance of the western media might as well be interpreted as highlighting the lost opportunity for the US to blow it up in a publicity skirmish against China. Neither the US emissaries nor their Chinese counterparts wanted to jeopardize the talks by what the media alleges as ‘a squabble over the treatment of a rights activist.’
A picture of the US as a protective cover for the Chinese who undergo human rights violations in the country also emerge in the media reports. Economist mentions in passing the case of Fang Lissi in 1989. Alleged to have stirred up Tiananmen Square unrest in the same year, Fang Lissi was hunted by Beijing until he landed in the protective custody of the foreign diplomatic mission. Retrospectively, rights activists consider the refuge in the US as counterproductive, as it would help them being caricatured as the stooges to the West.
But Chen is not concerned. He is awaiting papers to leave for the US to study there
Trail as Farce
Guantanamo has always been one of blotches in the US attempts to build an image of being patron of human rights and justice. The US Naval Base at Guantanamo Base was set as a camp for detaining the accused in the 9/11 attacks on the US. Ten years after the camp was set, Amnesty International brought out notice asking the US administration to close down the camp. In a notice the human rights watchdog posted on its website on 11th January 2012, it said that ‘Ten years on more than 150 detainees remain at Guantánamo Bay. The majority are in indefinite detention without charge or trial. Those who have been charged face unfair trial by military commission and some can face the death penalty if convicted. The government claims that even those found not guilty can be returned to indefinite detention. There has been essentially no accountability or redress for the human rights violations to which they and other detainees have been subjected’
Amnesty posed four points to US President Barak Obama, which include:
• Guantánamo detainees should either be charged and prosecuted in fair trials or released to countries that will respect their human rights; including into the USA if that is the only available option;
• The US military commissions, which do not meet international fair trial standards, should be abandoned, as should any pursuit of the death penalty;
• Former or current US officials responsible for human rights violations must be held to account, including in respect of crimes under international law such as torture and enforced disappearance by bringing them to justice. Victims of human rights violations must be provided genuine access to effective remedy;
• The USA must recognize the applicability of, and fully respect international human rights law, when conducting counterterrorism operations, including detentions in Guantánamo, detention facilities at Bagram in Afghanistan and elsewhere.
Meanwhile, the Guantanamo detainees have started symbolic protests against the farcical trails against them. The Economist in its May 12th-18th issue carries a report titled Justice Delayed saying that The defendants, not surprisingly, would not recognise the court. They refused to wear the headsets needed to hear the proceedings in Arabic. They insisted on praying. One made a paper aeroplane. Another was brought to court in a restraint chair and later took off his shirt. Two reportedly leafed through a copy of The Economist. One of the defence lawyers wore a black hijab and suggested the other women in the court should also cover up. At one point, the judge wondered: “Why is this so hard?”