Tighter Controls on Activist, Family

A Chinese advocate for women's rights remains cut off from supporters and friends.

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Screen grab of Chinese activist Chen Guangcheng from a video showing his life under house arrest in early 2011.

Authorities in the eastern Chinese province of Shandong have further tightened controls on blind activist Chen Guangcheng and his whole family following his release from jail last year.

Nanjing-based online activist He Peirong, known on the microblogging service Twitter as @pearlher, said she has seen an increase in the number of security guards all around Chen's home in Yinan county since her last trip there in January.

"You can't get through at all," she said Tuesday from Chen's home village of Dongshigu.

"They are completely cut off, and the surveillance has been increased," said He, who made the visits to help draw attention to the plight of Chen and his family, who have been under house arrest since his release from a four-year jail term last September.

"They have built a new building at the main intersection in the village," she said. "There are at least three people [keeping watch there]."

He said she had called at the offices of the Yinan county government to ask them to deal with Chen's situation, which was exposed during a video smuggled out by friends and fellow activists earlier this year.

Family cut off

The video depicted a tight regime of surveillance and restriction in place around the Chen family home, including gadgets placed in neighboring houses to block cell phone calls, cutting the family off from the outside world.

Only Chen's 76-year-old mother is allowed to leave the house to buy food for the family.

Chen, 38, a self-taught lawyer who has persistently campaigned for women's rights issues, was confined to his home since his release at the end of a jail term of four years and three months for “damaging public property and obstructing traffic” handed down by the Linyi municipal court in August 2006.

Chen had exposed abuses like forced abortions and sterilizations by local family planning officials under China’s “One Child” population-control policy. He had served the full jail term in spite of repeated requests for medical parole.

According to overseas rights groups, Chen and his wife, Yuan Weijing, were beaten following the release of the video, which opens with the full-on gaze of one of Chen's surveillance team staring straight into the house, and at the hidden camera.

Yuan speaks to the camera about her worries for the couple's two children, sitting by a bookcase shielded by the half-darkness.

Supporters turned back

Journalists and concerned netizens have reported being turned back by officials or gangs of men brandishing sticks when they tried to visit Chen's home.

Chen, who made the video around 10 weeks after his release from jail, is well-known in China's civil rights community, which is frequently exposed to detention, prison sentences, and official violence and harassment as activists struggle to enforce the rights of the country's most vulnerable people.

Chinese authorities use house arrest, known in Chinese as "soft detention," as a means of containing and intimidating activists.

He Peirong said Chen's situation appears not to have improved since the release of the video.

"After that, the authorities stepped up their controls," she said. "They haven't seen any visitors at all."

Chinese authorities have launched an unprecedented crackdown on dissent around the country in recent weeks following online, anonymous calls for a "Jasmine" revolution inspired by recent uprisings in the Middle East.

Reported by Grace Kei Lai-see for RFA's Cantonese service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.


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