Blind activist Chen Guangcheng said today the Chinese government has promised him it will investigate abuses he and his family suffered at the hands of local authorities.
Beijing’s apparent willingness to look into Mr Chen’s complaints is another sign that his gambit late last month – when he fled house arrest in his home town for the US embassy and set off a diplomatic tussle – has succeeded in getting officials to address his concerns.
Mr Chen said an official has visited him in his Beijing hospital three times, including to take a statement.
He said: “After he took my statement, he said they would launch an investigation as long as there are facts, and that if there are facts about the illegal actions, then the issue definitely would be openly addressed.”
Mr Chen said it remained to be seen how seriously Beijing would investigate abuses dating back to 2005 after Mr Chen angered local authorities by documenting forced late-term abortions and sterilisations in his rural community.
“Will the investigation be thorough? That’s hard to say, so we’ll have to keep monitoring,” he said.
Even a preliminary investigation shows the extraordinary amount of attention Mr Chen’s case is getting.
He served four years in prison on what supporters said were fabricated charges and was then kept under house arrest with his wife, daughter and mother.
Mr Chen said that besides assaulting him, officials also beat up his wife and mother, at one point chasing his wife in the road, pulling her from a vehicle and hitting her. His daughter was also subject to searches and harassment.
The mistreatment has often seemed extreme and personal, exposing the impunity local officials believe they have and Beijing’s unwillingness or inability to do anything about it.
For all its power, the authoritarian Chinese government relies on local officials to enforce policies so Beijing must be careful not to alienate them. But with Mr Chen’s case now an international issue, Beijing is either feeling compelled to act or it is seizing the opportunity to get rid of local officials it dislikes.
In a sign that the Chinese government does not want Mr Chen’s case to set a precedent or encourage others, Beijing has not publicised its meetings with him.
Though Mr Chen, his wife and two children are in the hospital under arrangements that may see them leave for the US soon, others in his family remain at risk. Mr Chen’s nephew has reportedly been detained after a clash with officials following the activist’s escape from house arrest.
Mr Chen and his supporters have tried to draw attention to his mistreatment for years. After he escaped from arrest in his rural home in Shandong province on April 22, he stayed in hiding in Beijing for several days during which he recorded a detailed account of the abuse and his tormentors.
In the video, Mr Chen named Zhang Jian, deputy party secretary in charge of politics and law of the township that oversees Mr Chen’s village, as well as five other officials from several different departments, as being among his persecutors.
“More than a dozen men broke into my house to beat up my wife. They pushed my wife down on the floor, covered her with a quilt, and beat and kicked her for several hours,” he said in one example.
In the video, Mr Chen appealed to premier Wen Jiabao to punish authorities in the city of Linyi, saying that they sent 70 to 80 officials from county police, the local branch of the Communist Party and administrative agencies to his home “to loot and beat and harm us”.