(Photo: REUTERS/US Embassy Beijing Press Office/Handout)
In a rare bipartisan move, Congressional leaders, including House Speaker John Boehner and Minority leader Nancy Pelosi, have urged the Obama administration to ensure protection of the persecuted family of blind Chinese legal activist Chen Guangcheng who fled to the U.S. last year.
Addressed to Secretary of State John Kerry, the letter states at least four ways the United States can tell the Chinese government that its treatment of Chen's extended family in eastern Shandong province is unacceptable.
"Chen Guangcheng and his family have suffered greatly at the hands of Chinese officials in Shandong Province," which reflects "a troubling trend of Chinese officials abusing, harassing, and intimidating the families of human rights activists in order to try to pressure these brave men and women into abandoning their important work," states the letter, according to Texas-based religious freedom group ChinaAid that is raising awareness of the plight of Chen's family.
Chen escaped from his heavily guarded house in Linyi in Shandong and arrived in the U.S. last year. He was kept under a longtime house arrest for exposing forced sterilization and other abuses by Chinese authorities. Chinese law requires families to have only one child. While rich Chinese can afford to pay fines for having more children, poor families are often treated brutally. Chinese authorities allegedly impose harsh punishments on the families of women who run away to save their babies.
After Chen's escape, Chinese authorities began persecuting his extended family, especially following the activist's testimony before a Congressional hearing on April 9.
On Thursday, Chen's oldest brother, Chen Guangfu, was assaulted while he was riding his motor bike about two miles away from his house. The phone line to their mother's home was also disconnected.
The letter, signed by six other senior members of Congress, including Chen's longtime Congressional champions Congressmen Chris Smith (R-N.J.) and Frank Wolf (R-Va.), asks the United States to help ensure medical treatment for the imprisoned and Chen's ailing nephew, Chen Kegui, who is suffering from acute appendicitis, and seek medical parole for him.
It also calls for a meeting between Kerry and Chen and his wife, Yuan Weijing, as well as denial of U.S. visas to the 44 officials, including Communist Party Politburo Standing Committee member and first-ranked vice premier Zhang Gaoli, "who have actively participated in persecution against Chen and his family and who are named on a list provided by Chen at a Congressional hearing a month ago."
Chinese leaders had promised not to harm Chen's family when Chinese and U.S. officials last year agreed to allow Chen and his wife and children to leave China for the United States, the letter recalls.
"We applaud the effort of Congress' bipartisan leadership to address this critical issue of the escalating retaliation against the Chen Guangcheng family," ChinaAid's founding president Bob Fu said in a statement.
"We continue to urge President Obama to personally intervene in this case," added Fu, a close friend of Chen. "Failing to hold China accountable will not only potentially have dire consequence for the life of Chen Kegui, but more importantly, it could put the credibility of the U.S. leadership at stake."