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SHANDONG DRAMA: Blind legal rights worker has appealed directly to Wen Jiabao to protect his family
THE escape of the blind legal rights worker Chen Guangcheng from his home in Dongshigu village in Shandong Province creates a political problem for Premier Wen Jiabao, now serving his final year in office.
Chen, a self-taught lawyer, had served a 51-month sentence in jail on charges of destroying property and assembling a crowd to disrupt traffic -- allegations difficult to believe since he was under house arrest at the time.
The "barefoot law-yer's" true offence was organising a class-action suit against the authorities in Linyi for abuses in the enforcement of the "one-child policy".
After his release in 2010, Chen and his family were confined to their home without benefit of legal process and repeatedly beaten.
Now, free for the first time since 2005, Chen has made a video in which he appealed directly to Wen to protect his family. He also identified by name local officials who had beaten his wife and mother, resulting in grave injury, and asked the premier to find out who was responsible for the abuses of the last 19 months.
"My wife's left eye socket was fractured by their beating," the blind man said. "The fracture can still be felt with your hand. Her back was hit by these people when they covered her with a quilt. Even now, the part from her fifth lumbar vertebra to her sacrum is obviously protruding; lumps can be felt on her left 10th and 12th ribs."
In appealing to Wen, Chen was acting within his constitutional rights. Article 41 of the constitution stipulates: "Citizens of the People's Republic of China have the right to criticise and make suggestions to any state organ or functionary."
Wen is the country's top functionary.
The constitution goes on to say: "In case of complaints, charges or exposures made by citizens, the state organ concerned must deal with them in a responsible manner after ascertaining the facts. No one may suppress such complaints, charges and exposures, or retaliate against the citizens making them."
China's censors have already deleted "Chen Guangcheng" and "blind" from Internet postings, acts that can be interpreted as suppressing Chen's charges.
Wen was in Poland visiting the Auschwitz concentration camp when news of Chen's daring escape broke. Wen, obviously moved by what he saw, told reporters that the World War 2 tragedy warned people against war and genocide and "encouraged them to fight for freedom, dignity, safety and well-being".
If Wen meant what he said, he should applaud Chen for those are the values that this blind, self-taught lawyer had been fighting for. Now that the premier is back in China, he should order the hospitalisation of Chen's wife so that she can receive appropriate treatment. He should also order the suspension of all the officials identified by the blind activist until a thorough investigation is conducted.
As long as Chen was held by Shandong authorities, the central government could pretend that it did not know what was actually going on.
Now that Chen has made his charges public and asked for an investigation, Wen has no choice but to carry out his constitutional responsibilities.
This way, it may still be possible to isolate the central authorities from the damage done by local officials. But if Wen and other Chinese leaders act as though Chen is a criminal and refuse to respond to his appeal, they will no doubt be judged by the people of China and by the world.
Coincidentally, while Wen was in Auschwitz, United Sates Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was in Washington presiding over an annual Holocaust commemoration.
Clinton voiced sentiments not dissimilar to those of the premier. "We have to figure out ways to support those who are facing great dangers," she said, "who are standing up for human rights, and we have to think of ways to outsmart and to stop and prevent those who pursue their own agendas and try to justify what they do, but who cannot escape the label of being evil by anyone with a conscience."
These two senior officials may well meet this week in Beijing, when the US and China hold their annual strategic and economic dialogue.
The case of Chen, instead of dividing the two countries, should be one where they show that they share similar values -- values enunciated so well by Wen: freedom, dignity, safety and well-being.