Phones Blocked for Activist’s Family

Phone service for relatives and associates of a jailed blind activist is curtailed before the Paralympics open.

2008-09-04
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Chen Guangcheng
Blind human rights activist Chen Guangcheng. Photo: Gongmin Weiquan Wang.
Gongmin Weiquan Wang.
HONG KONG—In the run-up to the Paralympic Games in Beijing, people close to a prominent jailed blind activist have suddenly found their access to telecommunications limited.

The wife of Chen Guangcheng, a human rights lawyer currently serving a four-year jail term, said her cell phone service is often cut off in the middle of calls.

“I recently discovered that from Aug. 30 my cell phone could be disconnected at any time, and that I am not alone—other cell phone users in our village have experienced the same problem,” Yuan Weijing said.

“Sometimes I can get through, but I don’t know when it might drop…Most of the time [my brother-in-law’s] cell phone shows no signal during the day,” she added.

Chen received a four-year, three-month sentence after documenting abuses by family planning officials during the 1980s and 90s. He is currently detained at Linyi Prison in China’s eastern province of Shandong.

In a statement, the advocacy group Reporters Without Borders condemned the Chinese authorities' apparent bid to prevent foreign journalists who will cover the Paralympics from getting in touch with those close to Chen.

Under Chinese law, he may seek parole halfway through his jail term, and Yuan recently appealed her husband’s case.

Constant surveillance

yuanweijing
Yuan Weijing with her daughter in Beijing, July 04, 2007. Photo: Hu Jia
Photo: Hu Jia
Yuan has been under constant surveillance since Chen was detained in June 2006. She said earlier that ahead of the Olympics Games as many as “40 people working two shifts” were keeping tabs on her.

One villager said Yuan, currently under house arrest, and her family are under close watch by scores of people and no one can get in.

“Her phone has been cut off and she has been tailed too,” said the villager, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

Attempts to contact Yuan as recently as Sept. 2 have failed. A recorded message informs callers that Yuan’s telephone number isn’t working.

Li Fangping, Chen’s lawyer in Beijing, said his cell phone had been experiencing similar problems. He speculated that government officials may be wary of the handicapped activist creating a stir ahead of the Paralympics, which open Friday.

“Authorities may be concerned that Chen’s case would draw world attention,” Li said.

In January, a German television crew was denied access to Yuan’s home by the Yinan county Public Security Bureau.
 
Paperwork appealing for Chen’s parole will soon be delivered to prison officials, Li said.

Original reporting by Zhang Min for RFA’s Mandarin service. Translated by Shen Hua. Written by Joshua Lipes. Mandarin service director: Jennifer Chou. Edited by Sarah Jackson-Han.

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