Chinese rule-of-law activist becomes a case in point
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Behind the popular anger is a brutal policy overseen by Mayor Qun in Linyi. (Qun's memoir of his six months in New Haven in 2000 is published in Chinese as "I was a Mayor's Assistant in America.") Linyi police forced late-term abortions, and rounded up women who had already had one child for sterilization. If a woman could not be found, police detained family members. In some villages around Linyi, up to half the population left.Skip to next paragraph
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Chen did not attack the one-child policy. It was the detentions and extortions he took on – and the central government did at one point dismiss several local officials.
In one case examined by Chen, Xing Aixia, targeted for sterilization, left with her migrant husband. The police detained the couple's mothers until Ms. Xing returned. In some cases, roundups of up to 100 peasants in a room resulted in beatings. Beijing lawyers visiting Chen last year were shocked by conditions.
Chen has managed to retain the love and respect of many locals. A factory worker in Linyi contacted by phone at random, said Chen has not been seen in public for months. "We know that Chen is innocent and a good man, and that the government is wrong," the worker said.
Beijing lawyers point out that Chen has been steadily denied justice. His house arrest without trial or due process is illegal, they say. When he managed to escape to Beijing in September, Shandong police illegally seized him and took him home.
Currently, Chen is being held in association with two charges. The first begins on Feb. 5, the eve of Spring Festival, China's main holiday.
Police blocking Chen's house erected a tent in front of the door of Chen's neighbor. The neighbor was arrested after protest. His wife and grandmother, followed by a crowd, went to the jail to ask about him. The police denied that they took him. His grandmother fainted in the snow, prompting the crowd to ask for an ambulance. When police refused, angry members of the crowd broke windows in three cars. Later, authorities charged the blind Chen with directing the crowd to act.
On March 11, Chen was allowed out, ostensibly to cross the street and discuss his case with an official. But no official was present. On the way back, Chen's party tried to hire it to visit the local party secretary. Police halted traffic, took pictures, and charged him with "gathering a crowd to disrupt road communications." After that he disappeared for three months.
The debate now is whether a trial for Chen is beneficial. Xu says a trial will not be fair. Witnesses have, unusually, given testimony to defense lawyers. But they will probably not be allowed to appear in court.
Li, the lawyer who stepped down, worries that the judge in Linyi, who like all judges is not independent, could "trick" the defense by telling them the trial is delayed - then hold one anyway.
Before he quit this month, Li published an open letter. He describes a crowd of more than 10 persons on Highway 205 last month, waiting for him and another lawyer. The thugs tried to pull the lawyers out of the car and finally turned the car over. Li called 110, the emergency service.
When the police arrived they took no photos. When Li took photos, thugs smashed his camera and hit him.
Lawyer Xu advocates an open trial, but does not expect one. "If people could attend and know the truth, they would change their ideas," he says. "They would see what is happening. But instead the local government is closing and blocking everything."
Paul Gerwitz, a China legal expert, says, "There is bottom up pressure for legal reform in China, and China has the fastest movement of legal change anywhere."But if you define rule of law as the ability to constrain excess, China is not there yet."