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Blind lawyer fights for China's values

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 lawyer's” true offense was organizing a class-action lawsuit against the authorities in Linyi prefecture 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 appeals directly to Premier 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 Premier 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 criticize and make suggestions to any state organ or functionary.” Premier 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, an act that could be interpreted as suppressing Chen's charges.

Premier 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 II tragedy warned people against war and genocide and “encouraged them to fight for freedom, dignity, safety and well-being.”

If Premier Wen meant what he said, he should applaud Chen, for those are precisely the values that this blind, self-taught lawyer has been fighting for.

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