Tomorrow is the International Day for the Blind. Chen Guangcheng’s wife Yuan Weijing has written to remind the world of her husband’s life in prison. Yuan is under strict surveillance at the moment. We express our thanks to anyone who has had the courage to smuggle the letter out. The original letter is published at the Chinese Human Rights Defenders’ website. The following is my translation:
October 15 is the International Day for the Blind. On behalf of my husband who is a blind person, I would like to send my greetings to all blind people and wish them good health and happiness.
My husband Chen Guangcheng is also blind. Due to his disability and various other reasons, he did not start his formal education until after he turned 18. He graduated from the Nanjing Chinese Medicine University with a major in Acupuncture. As a medical practitioner, his main interest is in social welfare, and he is particularly concerned about the rights of people with or without disabilities. He has fought for the right of blind people in rural communities to be exempted from agricultural tax (as a matter of fact, today farmers are no longer required to pay agricultural tax). He has also fought hard for blind people in rural areas to enjoy the same free public transportation as those who live in the cities. In short, my husband has worked tirelessly to secure basic human rights for ordinary people. In the course of his rights defending endeavours, he has offended many local government officials who very often are violators of civil rights.
The confrontation with local officials escalated in 2005. In that year, large scale forced abortion and forced sterilization campaigns were launched in Linyi and other 12 counties in Shandong Province. The local governments required all couples with 2 children to be sterilised at hospitals. Pregnant women who were unable to secure government permission to have a second child were forced to go through abortion. Some people managed to escape or to live in hiding. However, their parents, siblings, relatives and even neighbours were subjected to brutal beatings and had fines imposed on them by officials or their hired thugs. This was a serious violation of China’s Constitution and other legal provisions. My husband and I carried out some investigations with the support of a group of Beijing based lawyers and reporters, and proceeded to commence legal actions against the government. We also attempted to expose their wrongdoings through the mass media. (Strict media censorship meant that a negative report about birth control would not find its way to the mass media.) Who could have guessed that these efforts would have incurred such serious suppressions and retaliations from the government?
Since September 2005, the local government began to restrict my family’s freedom of movement. More than 10 government officials and their hired staff would stand guard outside of our house 24 hours a day in order to stop us from leaving our home. Our telephone was disconnected and mobile phone signal shields were installed nearby to cut off all our communications with the outside world. On 3 November 2006, my husband was taken away and secretly detained for three months. He was finally sentenced to four years and three months imprisonment on fabricated charges of malicious damages, illegal gathering and disruption of traffic order. More than 10 Beijing rights-defending lawyers and activists attempted to intervene on our behalf. However, every time a lawyer conducted an investigation to gather evidence for defence, he was followed, harassed and beaten up by government paid triad members. Two of the lawyers were seriously injured.
My husband is completely blind. According to Chinese law, a disabled person like him should never receive a custodial sentence, because he is incapable of taking care of himself. Nevertheless, the government rejected our lawyer’s application for my husband to serve his sentence out of jail. Since then, my husband has been serving his prison terms at a prison in Linyi of Shandong Province. His life in prison has been difficult from the start. He is deprived of even the most basic rights of an inmate to read books and newspapers because Braille books are not available in prison, and our family’s effort to supply him with books has been met with objections. My husband then went on a hunger strike to protest against being violently beaten up by six or seven inmates. Since late July 2008, he has been suffering from diarrhoea. We have made several requests for him to be properly examined and treated. However, the prison is unwilling to pay for his medical expenses because his disability has prevented him from working and from contributing financially to the prison, as other inmates are required to do. We have also made several requests for him to be temporarily released so that he can seek medical treatment. But we are still waiting for a reply.
As Chen Guangcheng’s wife, I have been subjected to unlawful imprisonment. It has been more than four years now since September 2005 that the local government has placed me under 24 hours round the clock surveillance. Not only have I lost my freedom, on several occasions I was even physically and verbally assaulted by the guards. Some friends, including reporters and writers, were beaten up when they made an attempts to visit me. As I am writing this letter, 12 guards are conducting 24 hours round the clock surveillance around my house. The last time I visited my husband was in December 2008. Even Guangcheng’s other relatives have been deprived of the right to a monthly visit. No visitor has been allowed since April 2009. The humiliation and suffering that I have endured are beyond words. And I am also mindful that this letter should not be too long.
I would like to take this opportunity to thank friends around the world for their moral support. Because of their advocacy, Chen Guangcheng was made a recipient of the Ramon Magsaysay Award. He was honoured at the Index on Censorship Freedom of Expression Award and was voted by Time Magazine as one of the 100 most influential people in the world. Institutions such as Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and Chinese Human Rights Defenders, as well as many politicians in Europe and America have called for the release of my husband.
Presently, I am very worried about my husband’s health. He is now applying his medical knowledge every day to try to lessen the pain that he is suffering. As the International Day for the Blind is approaching, I earnestly hope that those in the World Blind Union will extend their helping hands to ensure that my husband’s legal rights to health and to proper medical treatment will be protected. Once again, I would like to express my sincere thanks to you all for your help.
The Wife of Chen Guangcheng, the Blind Rights Defender
14 October 2009