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May 26, 2017

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Don't compromise on China rights: blind activist

WASHINGTON -- Dissident Chen Guangcheng voiced confidence Tuesday that China's political system will eventually open up, and urged fellow activists and the United States not to compromise on human rights.

In an address in the U.S. Capitol complex, the blind self-taught lawyer offered his most philosophical remarks yet about China since he dramatically escaped house arrest last year and was allowed to leave for New York.

"There has never been a dynasty that was able to achieve longevity through forceful oppression," Chen said, quoting a Chinese proverb that "if you carry the hearts and minds of the people, you will carry all below Heaven."

"We need to bring an end to this period of history during which the communist authority maintains a monopoly on power and enslaves the people through a leadership of thieves," he said.

Chen, speaking to a crowd including U.S. lawmakers as the actor and activist Richard Gere read a translation, was accepting a human rights award named in honor of late congressman Tom Lantos.

Chen, who was released after days of tense diplomacy between the world's two largest economies, called on Washington to stand firm.

"I urge you to continue unwaveringly from your basic principles of democracy, human rights and freedom of speech. You must not give an inch or offer the smallest compromise when it comes to these basic principles," he said.

Chen saluted the "countless human rights warriors who have dared to say no in the face of evil," naming detained activists such as Nobel laureate Liu Xiaobo and lawyer Gao Zhisheng.

But Chen called for the defense as well of lesser-known individuals, including users of China's heavily controlled Internet, and voiced alarm at what he said was the retaliatory jailing of his nephew.

Chen took heart from Myanmar, formerly known as Burma, which in the past two years has taken major reforms including freeing political prisoners, allowing the opposition to serve in parliament and easing censorship.

"What the people of Myanmar do, we can do, too," Chen said.

Chen, who has been blind since a childhood illness, became a thorn in the side of authorities in eastern Shandong province after he exposed forced abortions in the corrupt enforcement of China's one-child policy.

Chen was sentenced to four years in prison in 2006. He was freed from prison in September 2010 but placed under house arrest, where he said that he and his wife were subjected to intense beatings after they kept speaking out.

On the eve of a visit to Beijing by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Chen scaled walls and found his way to the safety of the U.S. Embassy in Beijing. China eventually allowed him to move to New York with his family to study law.

Chen denounced "the barbarism of the authoritarian system" as the greatest contemporary threat, saying that such regimes do "their utmost to stop the mouths and bind the spirits of good-willed people."

"They will ravage you at will. If you resist, they will make you a criminal; if you protest, they will make you their enemy," he said.

"If you approach them with dialogue and reason and hope that they will give up some of their authoritarian power, you will in effect become an accomplice to their work," Chen said.

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