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Chen's victory an isolated case, say Chinese activists

If China allows activist Chen Guangcheng to leave with his family, it will be an individual victory unlikely to usher in better treatment for other dissidents.

By Gillian WongAssociated Press / May 5, 2012



Beijing

Even if China makes a rare concession and allows legal activist Chen Guangcheng to leave the country with his family, other dissidents say they don't expect a broader easing of controls. Authorities might even tighten the screws on prominent critics to prevent them from taking encouragement from Chen's case to challenge the leadership.

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The blind activist's escape from house arrest and flight to safety in the US Embassy has provided a much-needed morale boost for a dissident community that over the last year has been debilitated by a massive government security crackdown aimed at preventing an Arab-style democratic uprising. Dozens of activists, rights lawyers, intellectuals, and others have been detained, questioned, and in some cases, even tortured.

Chen, a symbol in China's civil rights movement, may be able to leave to study in the United States under still-evolving arrangements announced Friday by Washington and Beijing to end a weeklong diplomatic standoff over his case.

On Saturday, Chen was still in a hospital where he was taken to receive medical care, joined by his wife and two children. US Embassy officials met with his wife, although Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, in Beijing this past week for annual talks, left Beijing without visiting him.

The Foreign Ministry said Friday that Chen could submit an application to go abroad. His wife told Hong Kong broadcaster TVB on Saturday that applications for travel documents had not yet been started and no date has been set for them to leave.

The turn of events for Chen, while welcomed by most activists and dissidents, is seen as an individual victory that is not likely to pave the way for improvements in the government's attitude toward its critics.

"I think that after the Chen Guangcheng incident, the situation for us will just become worse and worse, because in today's society government power has no limits," said Liu Yi, an artist and Chen supporter who was assaulted Thursday by men he thinks were plainclothes police while he attempted to visit Chen in the hospital.

Liu Feiyue, a veteran activist who runs a rights monitoring network in the central province of Hubei, noted the importance of US involvement in Chen's case. "This is only an individual case. Because it turned into a China-US incident, the US put a lot of pressure on China, which is why the authorities made a concession to allow Chen Guangcheng to study overseas," he said.

"Not all dissident cases can become international issues," Liu Feiyue said.

Chen, a self-taught legal activist, is best known for exposing forced abortions and sterilizations in his community in a scandal that prompted the central government to punish some local officials. His activism earned him the wrath of local authorities, who punished him with nearly seven years of prison and house arrest.

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