'Jail' Built For Activist, Family

Chinese authorities construct a special prison to keep tighter controls over a blind rights lawyer and his family.

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

Chinese netizens concerned for the fate of blind Shandong-based activist Chen Guangcheng and his family say local officials look set to keep him, his wife,and young daughter imprisoned in a specially built jail, following nearly a year of unofficial house arrest.

"The officials in Chen Guangcheng's village now seem to be building a house specially for them to stay in," said Nanjing-based rights activist He Peirong, known by her online nickname as @pearlher.

"Sources have told me during the past couple of days that they have already finished building it," she said.

She said officials now look set to move the couple to the new building, so as to keep tighter controls over them.

"Now that the building is finished, it is likely that they will forcibly remove the couple to this building, which basically amounts to a jail," He said.

Chen's wife Yuan Weijing and the couple's young daughter would be split up by the move, she added.

"We are very worried about their situation," He said.

Access to schooling

Meanwhile, Beijing-based rights activist Liu Shasha said she had visited both the police department and the education department to inquire after the Chen family's welfare.

She said officials in the education ministry had agreed with her that the couple's daughter should be in school.

"The child should be in school," Liu said. "If the parents are unable to take her, then someone else should be allowed to take her, like her grandmother."

Liu said there was a chance the education ministry might intervene on the child's behalf.

"But I won't rest easy until I see her in class," she said.

China prides itself on its provision of primary level education, reporting figures of 100 percent enrollment to the United Nations Children's Fund.

He Peirong said that Chen and Yuan had tried to send their daughter to live with relatives alongside her older brother, but that local officials had blocked the transfer of the child's registration papers, making school enrollment impossible.

Chen's elder son, who lives with relatives in another county while he attends primary school, was strip-searched after leaving the family home at the lunar new year celebrations, activists have reported previously.

Cut off from the world

Many who know the family say they are concerned about the family's access to food and about Chen's health, as the activist has suffered bloody diarrhea since his release from jail, and has been refused permission to seek medical attention.

They say that the family is now without television, radio, or books, and that Chen's wife Yuan Weijing has suffered broken bones from a beating she received at the hands of the authorities after the couple smuggled out a video of their lives under house arrest.

According to He, who last traveled to Chen's home in Shandong's Yinan county in June, there was an marked increase in the number of security guards in the village since her last trip there in January.

Supporters say that Chen's family are now completely cut off from the outside world.

A video smuggled out by the couple earlier this year 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.

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.

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.

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

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

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


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