'Living Here Is Like Living in a Prison'

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china-chen-guangcheng-april-2013.jpg Chen Guangcheng (L) at a congressional hearing in Washington, April 9, 2013.

A year after blind Chinese dissident Chen Guangcheng arrived in New York as a visiting legal scholar following a daring escape from house arrest and a trip to the U.S. Embassy in Beijing, the women of his family have been looking back on a turbulent and traumatic time.

"If I don't get a phone call from [Chen Guangcheng], I can never get to sleep," Chen's mother said in an interview with RFA's Cantonese service on Mother's Day. "I can only relax after I've heard his voice."

"I really wanted to be able to take his phone call [on Mother's Day], to find out how things are with him," she said, adding that Chen calls every two-to-three days to check up on her.

"I don't want him to come back. Living here is like living in a prison."

But she said she and Chen's elder brother have been unable to apply for a passport, which requires a signature from local officials, which means that visiting her son is out of the question.

"We can't go there," she said. "I can't get a passport; there's nothing to be done."

"I will wait, and hope that the family will one day be reunited, and hope that things go well for Guangcheng. That will have to do," she said. "There is no need to be too worried about us."

Increased harassment

Unidentified men hired by the local government in the Chens' home village of Dongshigu, Yinan county, recently stepped up harassment of the family on the anniversary of his escape, which caught officials off their guard and prompted a violent attack on his brother's home.

According to Chen's brother, Chen Guangfu, local officials entered the family home and attacked him and his family in anger shortly after his uncle’s blind, solo escape under cover of darkness.

Chen's nephew is currently serving a 39-month jail term for injuring officials in the attack, during which he has been subjected to deprivation of sleep and food, the family says.

Chen Kegui's mother, who gave only her surname Yi, said she has little hope of spending Mother's Day with her son in the next couple of years.

"I hope to be able to see him again soon," Yi said. "I have only been able to visit him once since he went to prison."

Sick and in pain

She said the whole family is worried about Chen Kegui, who recently suffered an attack of appendicitis.

"He is really very sick, and in a lot of pain," Yi said. "Every night, I can't get to sleep for worrying about him."

"He has tried to call me from inside the prison, but we can't hear what he says very clearly, and he gets cut off pretty soon."

"And when I tried to call him back, I couldn't get through," she said.

"His appendicitis is very serious ... it's very dangerous. But I have no way of knowing how he is."

Chen Guangcheng, a self-taught lawyer who exposed forced abortions under the country's one-child policy and defended the rights of ordinary people, has been living and studying law in New York since arriving in the U.S. in May 2012, after a diplomatic standoff between Washington and Beijing.

After 18 months of house arrest in Shandong's Dongshigu village, Chen Guangcheng outwitted his guards and made his way to the U.S. Embassy in Beijing, where Chinese and American officials eventually struck a deal allowing him and his family to go to New York to study.

Reported by Fung Yat-yiu for RFA's Cantonese Service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.


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