Blind activist warns China oppression will backfire

Chen Guangcheng, centre and his wife arrive at a press conference in Taipei. Picture: Getty
Chen Guangcheng, centre and his wife arrive at a press conference in Taipei. Picture: Getty
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A CHINESE activist who fled to the United States after escaping house arrest has warned that his native country’s relentless efforts to crush opposition and suppress human rights will backfire.

Chen Guangcheng, a self-taught lawyer who has been blind since birth, said he is convinced that rapidly growing yearnings for freedoms and human rights among the Chinese will eventually “put an end to the authoritarian rule” in the communist country. Mr Chen was speaking at the start of a two-week visit to Taiwan. His visit will be closely watched by Beijing.

Taiwan, the democratic, self-ruled island which China claims as its own, regularly plays host to people China disapproves of, including exiled Tibetan spiritual leader the Dalai Lama.

Mr Chen avoided questions about his criticism last week of New York University, where he spent the last year as a special student after leaving China.

He had said the university caved to pressure from China’s Communist Party when it asked him to leave. But the university said Mr Chen had been awarded a one-year fellowship to assist his departure from China, and the year was up.

Mr Chen said he may have hit a “sore point” with his comments, but did not give details.

He also declined to comment on reports one of his supporters in the US gave him an iPhone and iPad installed with software to track his activities.

Yesterday, Mr Chen accused Beijing of spending billions annually on monitoring dissidents and activists, and putting them in jail if they refused to stop their activities. “No other regimes in the world have feared or monitored their own people in such a way,” Mr Chen said.

He warned that whatever the Chinese authorities do, “they cannot make me shut up. That will be out of the question.”

In Beijing, foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying, when asked to comment on Mr Chen’s visit to Taiwan, said: “Every Chinese citizen has obligations to abide by the constitution and laws of China and refrain from doing things that will hurt the national interest.” She did not elaborate.

Mr Chen had angered local-level Chinese officials by documenting complaints about forced abortions.

He escaped house arrest in his home town in April 2012, sparking a diplomatic crisis when he fled to the US embassy in Beijing. Chinese officials later let him move to the US with his family.

Once there, Mr Chen gave speeches, and spoke about China’s human rights record to a congressional committee.

Yesterday he said he regretted that Taiwanese president, Ma Ying-Jeou had declined to meet him, but he also praised the state, saying its democracy was exerting pressure on its neighbour and political rival.

A spokesman did not give a reason for the president not meeting Mr Chen.

“Now is a crucial moment for the entire mainland and Asia to move on to practice democracy,” Mr Chen said.

He claimed the democratisation of China could “spell the end of dictatorship for the entire humankind”.