Chinese citizens increasingly are speaking out against the repressive policies of their government, a blind Chinese dissident said Tuesday as he urged the international community to pressure Beijing to generate reforms.
Chen Guangcheng, who was put under house arrest for standing up to China’s one-child policy and forced abortions, said that more than 200,000 protests by Chinese citizens over the past few years show that change is in the air. “More and more people are overcoming their fear to take action,” he said.
Mr. Chen spoke Tuesday at a ceremony on Capitol Hill at which he was awarded the Tom Lantos Human Rights Prize by the Lantos Foundation for Human Rights and Justice.
“In this moment of transformation in China, international pressure is extremely important,” Mr. Chen said in Chinese, as actor and social activist Richard Gere read his remarks aloud in English. “However, the Chinese sons and daughters back home need to understand that, although others can help us, we need to be the main actors of this effort.”
Mr. Chen cited democratic reforms in Myanmar and said similar change can come to communist China as well.
“What the people of Myanmar do, we can do too,” he said. “We need to bring an end to this period of history during which the communist authority maintains a monopoly on power and enslaves the people through a leadership of thieves, and establish a truly civil society.”
A self-taught lawyer, Mr. Chen and his wife, Yuan Weijing, documented incidents of forced abortions and sterilizations in China’s Shandong province in an attempt to challenge the country’s one-child policy.
In 2005, he organized a class-action lawsuit against authorities in Shandong province on the issue of forced abortions. Chinese authorities responded by putting him under house arrest.
In April, Mr. Chen made a dramatic escape from house arrest and fled to the U.S. Embassy in Beijing. The incident was resolved after tense diplomatic negotiations. The Chinese government agreed to let Mr. Chen travel to the U.S. to study law at New York University.
“Today, I and my immediate family are free in body, but in mind we cannot be free because so many of my compatriots, including many family members, are still living under the evils of the authoritarian system,” Mr. Chen said. “These are not isolated cases of injustice, but represent a reality in China today.”
Since Mr. Chen’s escape, his brother’s family has been attacked, and his nephew has been detained and charged with attempted murder for stabbing three men who attacked him.
Chinese authorities have harassed his friends who helped him escape and those he has been in touch with since he left China, Mr. Chen said.
Mr. Chen and his wife “have paid and continue to pay an extraordinarily high price for their benign defiance of the dictatorship that violates human rights with impunity and crushes human dignity,” said Rep. Christopher Smith, New Jersey Republican and a longtime advocate of Mr. Chen’s.
The Chinese Embassy in Washington did not respond to a request for comment.
“China will only reach its fullest potential when it recognizes the Chinese people’s inalienable and universal rights rather than seeing them as a threat to their monopoly on political power,” said Sen. Kelly Ayotte, New Hampshire Republican.
The award Mr. Chen received Tuesday is named after former Rep. Tom Lantos, California Democrat and a Holocaust survivor who championed human rights for nearly three decades. Lantos died in 2008.