Christian activists called on the Obama Administration Sunday during a prayer vigil to protect blind Chinese dissident Chen Guangcheng, who managed to escape from confinement and is believed to be in hiding at the U.S. Embassy in China.
The conservative Christian Defense Coalition and about a dozen supporters staged a prayer and singing vigil in front of the Chinese embassy in Washington, D.C., calling not only on the Chinese government to respect human rights and freedom of speech, but also on President Barack Obama and his administration to use this opportunity to show support for such rights.
"This is a watershed moment for President Obama and the United States," The Christian Defense Coalition's director, the Rev. Patrick J. Mahoney, said Sunday. "Will he bow to the pressure of an oppressive Chinese regime? Or will he stand strong and embrace human rights and freedom for all and not betray the principles that Chen Guangcheng has risked his life for?"
Chen was reportedly jailed for opposing forced abortions and sterilizations under China's one-child policy. Last week, the blind man apparently managed to escape, reportedly with the aid of human rights activists, after four years in prison and 18 months under house arrest, and reached the U.S. embassy in Beijing. Chen has also appeared in an online video and told the story of his detention and torture.
Turning the political prisoner over to Chinese authorities would "result in unspeakable violence to him and his family and would betray the principles of human rights and justice that Americans have embraced for years," Mahoney, said Sunday.
Mahoney, a social and political activist and an ordained minister in the Reformed Presbyterian Church, has been an outspoken critic of the Chinese government for 25 years and was arrested and deported from China after leading demonstrations for human rights and religious freedom during the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games. He was also arrested in Washington in Jan. 2011, during the visit of China's President Hu Jintao, for staging a vigil in front of the White House.
When the story of Chen's escape from house confinement was revealed, Mahoney and his supporters were "thrilled," he told The Christian Post. The group has been praying for Chen as a first response, he said.
"[Chen's] courage, faith and passion shows that even the full weight of the Chinese military cannot crush the power of freedom and the human spirit," Mahoney said Sunday. "We are gathering to pray for his safety and the safety of his family along with all of those in China who are being brutalized and oppressed for their beliefs, stand for human rights and justice and ending the barbaric practice of forced abortion."
It is also a very important opportunity for the Obama administration to show support for those rights, Mahoney told CP, as it has not done so before. The administration does not get good grades for protecting human rights, the spiritual leader added. Mahoney was critical of the White House "rolling out the red carpet" for China's president Hu Jintao in last January. He emphasized that former President George W. Bush had not "staged a state dinner" for a Chinese leader. Mahoney made it clear he thinks the Chinese government should be condemned for not respecting human rights and the freedom of speech.
"If Chen is given back to the Chinese government, America has broken covenant with the ideals that have guided our country for over two centuries and signals to the world that those ideals are no longer important to us," he added. "It should never be a crime to desire freedom, democracy and human rights."
Chen is a civil rights activist in China who drew international attention to human rights issues in rural areas, particularly the issue of forced sterilization resulting form China's one-child policy.
Chen was reportedly placed under house arrest from Sept. 2005 to March 2006 after talking to Time magazine about the forced abortion cases he investigated in Linyi Prefecture, Shandong Province. He was arrested in June 2006. During the trial, Chen's lawyers were reportedly forbidden access to the court.
Meanwhile, as a visit from Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and Treasury Secretary Timothy F. Geithner to China was scheduled for Monday. The New York Times reported that a senior American official said that China's leadership met Sunday to work out their response to Chen's escape before facing U.S. officials.
Neither Chinese nor U.S. officials have yet made an official statement in Chen's case, and his future remains unknown.
President Obama, asked about the issue during a press briefing Monday, acknowledged that he is aware of it, but declined to comment on what steps the U.S. government would take regarding Chen's case.