Chen Guangcheng, a human rights lawyer who has been under house arrest in China since 2010, escaped from his own home and is reportedly hiding somewhere in Beijing. Chen's supporters say he isn't trying to leave the country, but only wants to be allowed to live like a normal citizen. He reportedly had to leave his wife and daughter behind and want to negotiate for their safety as well.
Chen, who has been blind since childhood, first ran into trouble with the Chinese government after taking up the cause of thousands of women who forcibly sterilized by local officials in Linyi County. In 2006, he was convicted on charges of disturbing the peace and destroying property (despite already being under house arrest at the time) and was sent to prison for four years. He was technically released in September of 2010, but was immediately take to his home, which has been surrounded by state security guards ever since. Chen and his family have not been allowed to leave and his supporters have been denied access to the home. You may remember an incident last year, when actor Christian Bale and a CNN camera crew were attacked after trying to visit Chen. There have also been reports that Chen and his family have been beaten by the guards after passing video tapes to supporters on the outside.
The escape threatens to become a nightmare embarrassment for government officials, who have claimed all along that Chen isn't actually under house arrest. They may now have to basically let him go or admit that they want him back in jail. Should he make it out of the country or to a friendly embassy — the U.S. would not comment on a report that he was at theirs — Communist Party officials may be forced to relent or risk drawing more unwanted attention to the treatment of dissidents. If nothing else, his escape makes state security forces look foolish and will undermine the tight grip they attempt to hold on the most vocal opposition groups.
Chen has already posted a video to YouTube, allegedly recorded after his escape, saying that “My mother, my wife, my child are still in their clutches" and asking Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao to investigate the corruption of local officials who detained him. There were also reports that Chen's brother got into a knife fight with security forces who came looking for him.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.