When footage of CNN reporters being attacked outside a small village in the coastal Chinese province of Shandong province was aired in February this year, the world witnessed for the first time the treacherous business of visiting Chen Guangcheng. Chen, a blind civil rights activist, has been persecuted, imprisoned and kept under house arrest for challenging local authorities over their inhuman practice of forced abortions, which are carried out in the name of family planning.
The CNN team is neither the first nor the last to have endured such an ordeal. As I am writing this blog post, a Chinese netizen He Peirong (who tweets under the alias @pearlher) is waiting at a local police station in the Jiehu district of Yi’nan County in Shandong Province. She intends to report a crime of assault and robbery that she has sustained last Wednesday (1 June 2011) while she made an attempt to visit Chen Guangcheng.
This is He Peirong’s second attempt to visit the blind activist. When she made her first visit on 11 January this year, she was assaulted by a group of guards outside Chen’s doorsteps. On that occasion, He Peirong was rescued, due to effort of her Twitter friends. An online rescue campaign forced local police at Yi’nan to take action to secure He Peirong’s safety in order to stop complaints from escalating.
This time He Peirong was not as lucky. She departed from her hometown in Nanjing on 31 May. Her friends who were anxiously waiting by the phone did not hear from her until 2 June. On that day, He Peirong posted three very brief messages on Twitter calling for help. But the timing could not be worse. June Fourth, a politically sensitive date, was fast approaching. Most Internet activists in China were under strict police surveillance and were unable to answer her call for help.
The story of Pearl’s horrifying ordeal did not start to emerge until two days ago. The following is my partial translation of a report issued by the China Human Rights Defender today. The report is based on a telephone interview with He Peirong:
On 1 June, He Peirong was intercepted by domestic security police of Yi’nan County and was handed over to the Shuanghou Town Police Station. Government officials at the police station made an excuse to take leave shortly after her arrival. An hour or so later, several unidentified people forcibly took He Peirong onto a van, where she was searched. Two mobile phones, a wireless transmitter and 10,000 yuan were taken from her possession. She was driven to a remote area, abandoned by the roadside and was almost run over by oncoming traffic. A driver eventually came to her assistance and escorted her to a nearby Police Station at Tancheng. When the local police learnt about the robbery, they refused to handle her complaint and had her transferred back to the County Police at Yi’nan instead. She arrived there at 2.00AM on 2 June and was detained at the Jiehu Police Station where two policemen took turns to monitor her. She was later transferred to a Yonghe Business Hotel above the Yi’nan Yonghe Soya Milk Shop, where she was held incommunicado for three days. She finally managed to contact her friends for help when she was allowed to leave on Saturday night.
He Peirong’s persistence in reaching out to Chen Guangcheng and his family has become a source of inspiration for many Chinese netizens. With the support of her online friends, she is now making a final appeal to the Yi’nan authorities for permission to meet with Chen Guangcheng. She is also pleading for County police to carry out a thorough investigation into her complaint about robbery and illegal detention.
I chatted with He Peirong a few days prior to her Shandong trip. She kept reminding me not to forget about Chen Guangcheng and his family. “If we want China to change for the better, we have to speak out against this barbarous act of illegal detention and the arbitrary exercise of police power,” He Peirong said.