3-9-2012By Sam Quatromoni
Human Rights Defenders Program
Last February, Chinese social media was abuzz with calls for a “Jasmine Revolution”—for an uprising styled after the Arab Spring. This never materialized as the Chinese government responded by intensifying its crackdown on dissidents. Last week, in anticipation of increased protests around the one-year anniversary of the call for revolution, the government once again stepped up its oppression of activists.
Beijing police placed dissidents Zhang Shufeng and Zhang Deli under house arrest on February 29 and subjected rights activist Wu Tianli to “stability maintenance” guard around the clock at her home. Meanwhile the government continues to use legalized secret detentions to hold those who fight for human rights.
Blind human rights lawyer Chen Guangcheng managed to avoid the newest round of crackdowns—because he and his wife have been detained in their home since September 2010. Chen’s resilient supporters, prevented by armed guards from visiting him, are getting creative. They distributed thousands of bumper stickers modeled on KFC advertisements and emblazoned with his face, released helium balloons bearing his image, and organized a flash mob of people wearing dark glasses like Chen’s in the main square of his home city.
Despite his deteriorating health and the widespread homegrown support for him, the Obama administration did not publicly raise his case during Chinese Vice President’s Xi Jinping’s recent visit to the United States.
The United States should consistently stand up for Chen Guangcheng and for human rights activist everywhere. Vice President Biden criticized repression by the Chinese government in a recent speech, noting that people cannot think differently when they cannot speak freely.
The United States must go beyond occasional shows of support and establish a consistent international policy of embassy engagement with human rights activists. Reliable support bolsters their work and provides protection to those at risk.