The situation around Chinese dissident Chen Guangcheng, a self-educated blind lawyer dedicated to uncovering the horrors of China’s forced abortion policies, is growing steadily more outrageous. There’s no longer any question that he wants to get out of China, as he told CNN this morning that he fears for the lives of both himself and his family, and “anything could happen” if he stays in China.
Chen says he “wasn’t allowed to call my friends from inside the [American] embassy,” and “couldn’t keep up with the news, so I didn’t know a lot of things that were happening.” He clearly stated that American officials “kept lobbying me to leave,” and although they promised to stay with him after he checked into a Beijing hospital to treat the injuries he sustained during his escape from captivity, they disappeared as soon as he got there.
He said his wife was “tied to a chair by police for two days” following his escape, and the police have threatened to beat her to death with sticks. Chinese government security goons have now moved into his house, installing surveillance cameras and building an electric fence around his yard.
“I’m very disappointed in the U.S. government,” sighed Chen. “I don’t think [Administration officials] protected human rights in this case.” He begged President Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to “do everything you can to get our whole family out.”
Good luck with that, Chen. As he has already noticed, nobody at the U.S. Embassy will return his calls – he said he’s called two different embassy people “numerous times,” but no one will pick up the phone. It’s possible this is due to Chinese government interference, but the press certainly doesn’t seem to have much problem talking to him. Not yet, anyway.
At a White House press conference today, press secretary Jay Carney passed the buck with remarkable vigor, telling reporters Chen’s request for asylum is entirely up to the State Department.
Really? What happened to President Gutsy Call, the man who single-handedly orchestrated the mission to take down Osama bin Laden? What happened to “We Can’t Wait” and all those new exercises of unconstitutional power by our unitary executive? This is the man who claims he has the power to unilaterally decide whether the Senate is in session or not. Now he claims he has no influence over his own State Department? He can’t even make his way to a microphone and call on the Chinese government to let Chen Guangcheng and his family go?
Rep. Chris Smith (R-NJ) has been trying to get through to Chen, who told CNN he asked American embassy officials to let him talk to Smith, but they “somehow never managed to arrange it.” Smith told Fox News that “having [this week’s summit meetings with China] and trying to get this off the table in time for the happy pictures and the photo ops with the summit may have driven this in a way that led to a poor outcome. How are they going to guarantee his safety?”
House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) declared, “Having handed Chen Guangcheng back over to the Chinese government, the Obama administration is responsible for ensuring his safety.” Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC) added, “if America does not speak up for Mr. Chen, who will?”
House Foreign Affairs Committee chair Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL) said, “It should have been obvious to U.S. officials all along that there is no way to guarantee Mr. Chen’s safety so long as he is within reach of the Chinese police state. The U.S. should not have given in to Chinese pressure for Chen to be taken out of the safety of the U.S. embassy.” She called on the Administration to “support Mr. Chen’s freedom to choose where he and his family can live in safety.”
Incidentally, if Chen sounds vaguely familiar to you, it’s because he figured in a fairly well-known story from last December. Do you remember when “Batman” star Christian Bale traveled to China, and ended up getting the crap beaten out of him by government security forces? He was trying to visit Chen Guangcheng, whose hand he wanted to shake.
Update: Chen made a surprise phone call into an emergency House of Representatives meeting on Thursday afternoon, and was able to speak with Rep. Smith, among others. Chen said he wants to meet with Secretary of State Clinton to discuss his situation.
Smith told Chen, “Word is getting out, and your case is the test of Chinese commitment to protect you — which they were very dubious about those assurances. It is also a test of the United States about whether human rights really matter. You and your family and supporters should be on a plane to the United States… Chen we are all praying for you and we will be unceasing in our efforts to secure your freedom. This phone call absolutely underscores why we’re here.”