“Lawlessness, Public Opinion and Censorship in China”

Jerome Cohen is back, with a great new article on Chen Guangcheng:

The Chinese government’s current suppression of rising internet protests against its barbaric abuse of the blind “barefoot lawyer” Chen Guangcheng raises fundamental questions about the impact of legal reforms on real life in China.

Is Chen destined to be illegally silenced for the rest of his life? He is about to be 40 and has the iron will and charisma of a Gandhi. He is badly debilitated, however, by six years of being denied adequate medical attention for increasingly serious gastroenteritis. His death in prison would have plainly embarrassed his captors, but dying “at home” might appear less sinister.

Although domestic media are usually forbidden to mention Chen, two Chinese newspapers recently made brief references to his plight. The Internet is a more likely prospect for invoking the Party’s highly-touted but normally restricted “supervision by public opinion”. The weeks since the first anniversary of his release from prison have witnessed a surge in microblog protests against Chen’s suffering. Some were inspired by the failed attempts of disabled activists to mark International White Cane Safety Day by visiting Chen. But many broader protests reflect widespread, perhaps growing, concern over the regime’s lawlessness.

Of course, the Party Propaganda Department has an equally long memory and is trying to wipe out all Internet mention of Chen. Thisi s a great challenge to the ingenuity and energy of his blogging sympathizers. Yet other possibilities also exist. Huge, peaceful pro-environment “strolls” in Xiamen, Shanghai and Dalian led to cancellation of harmful development projects. At great political risk, some 370 Shanghai people just signed a petition supporting Chen. One can imagine the boost that might come from China’s large disabled population, if awakened. Chen once estimated that almost 10% of Linyi City’s residents are disabled. Foreign protest movements on Chen’s behalf also seem to be stirring in an attempt to emulate their recent success in helping to free famous artist Ai Weiwei from his illegal detention.

Zhou Yongkang and his comrades are undoubtedly determined to hang tough. Yet reports that Chen’s six-year-old daughter has finally been permitted to attend school – under stigmatizing police escort – suggest a sop to public opinion. Unfortunately, a similar gesture toward the daughter of the long-”disappeared” human rights lawyer Gao Zhisheng only added to the pressures that battered her and did not presage release for her courageous father. Without stronger public demands for holding the Chinese government to account for dishonoring its own legislation, Chen is unlikely to fare better.

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Filed under activism, censorship, enforced disappearance, law

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