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Chen Guangcheng and fellow activist Hu Jia in a photo released by Mr Hu's wife Zeng JinyanChen Guangcheng (L) and fellow activist Hu Jia in a photo released by Mr Hu's wife Zeng Jinyan

Chen Guangcheng - The man who exposed forced sterilizations in China

Chen Guangcheng is a civil rights activist in China who drew international attention to forced sterilisation and abortions in rural areas. He was placed under house arrest from September 2005 to March 2006 after talking to Time magazine about the forced abortion cases he investigated in Linyi Prefecture, Shandong Province.

On August 24, 2006, Chen was sentenced to four years and three months for "damaging property and organising a mob to disturb traffic". Chen was released from prison on September 8, 2010 after serving his full sentence, but remained under house arrest.

On 27 April 2012, Chen escaped his house arrest.

In 2005 Time Magazine published this article about his work

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Family Planning in China poster

Enemies Of the State?

Source: Hannah Beech/Shandong | Time magazine

The men with the poison-filled syringe arrived two days before Li Juan's due date.

They pinned her down on a bed in a local clinic, she says, and drove the needle into her abdomen until it entered the 9-month-old fetus.

"At first, I could feel my child kicking a lot," says the 23-year-old. "Then, after a while, I couldn't feel her moving anymore."

Ten hours later, Li delivered the girl she had intended to name Shuang (Bright). The baby was dead. To be absolutely sure, says Li, the officials--from the Linyi region, where she lives, in China's eastern Shandong province--dunked the infant's body for several minutes in a bucket of water beside the bed. All she could think about on that day last spring, recalls Li, was how she would hire a gang of thugs to take revenge on the people who killed her baby because the birth, they said, would have violated China's family-planning scheme.

Draconian measures

Since 1980, when China began fully carrying out what is commonly known as the one-child policy, officials in the provinces have often resorted to draconian measures--forced sterilizations and late-term abortions among them--to prevent the country's population of 1.3 billion from expanding into a Malthusian nightmare. Government leaders credit China's stringent population control with helping spur economic growth by reducing the number of mouths that must be fed. But in 2002, as personal freedoms proliferated in other areas of life, parliament voted to ease the deeply unpopular policy. Instead of forbidding extra children outright, the new law, among other reforms, allowed couples to have multiple offspring if they were willing to pay big fines. The costs can be exorbitant for peasants like Li--$365 or more for the first additional child in Linyi, around four times the average annual net income in this impoverished region. But at least the Chinese now possess a modicum of choice in family matters, which they lacked a few years ago.

The Communist Party bureaucracy, however, doesn't seem to have caught up with the new law. Despite laxer regulation, the career advancement of local leaders, especially in rural areas, still often depends on keeping birthrates low. "One set of bad population figures can stop an official from getting promoted," says Tu Bisheng, a Beijing legal activist who has helped document abuses related to the one-child policy.

Castigated for highest 'extra birth' rate

At a provincial meeting last year, Linyi officials were castigated for having the highest rate of extra births in all of Shandong, according to lawyers familiar with the situation. The dressing-down galvanized what appears to be one of the most brutal mass sterilization and abortion campaigns in years. Starting in March, family-planning officials in Linyi's nine counties and three districts trawled villages, looking to force women pregnant with illegal children to abort, and to sterilize those who already had the maximum allotment of children under the local family-planning policy. According to that regulation, which exists in a similar form in most rural areas, women with a son are not allowed to bear more children, whereas mothers whose first child is handicapped or a girl are allowed to have a second baby.

Many women refused to undergo the procedures. Others hid, often in family members' homes. The crackdown intensified. Relatives of women who resisted sterilization or abortion were detained and forced to pay for "study sessions" in which they had to admit their "wrong thinking," says Teng Biao, an instructor at the China University of Political Science and Law in Beijing, who visited Linyi last month to investigate the coercive campaign. In the Linyi county of Yinan alone, at least 7,000 people were forced to undergo sterilization between March and July, according to lawyers who spoke with local family-planning officials. Several villagers, the lawyers allege, were beaten to death while under detention for trying to help family members avoid sterilization.

Officials in Linyi deny that anything improper has happened. "All these things are either exaggerated, distorted or not based on facts," says an official surnamed Yao (he wouldn't give his full name) at the Linyi municipal family-planning commission. But national-level cadres concede that something has gone terribly wrong. "We have heard about the situation in Shandong, and it's totally against national law," a member of the State Family Planning Commission's secretariat in Beijing told TIME. "We are investigating the situation now." A public statement from the commission said that central and provincial authorities have cautioned Linyi officials to follow national regulations, vowing to punish lawbreakers.

Chen Guangcheng

The plight of Linyi's women was publicized by a most unlikely man. Chen Guangcheng was blinded at a young age in Linyi and learned massage in Beijing, one of the few subjects those without sight in China are allowed to study. But Chen was fascinated by law and while in Beijing sat in on several university law courses. Returning to Linyi, he became a legal activist, advising peasants on land and tax disputes. In March, a stream of distraught peasants complained to him of forced sterilizations and the detentions of family members. Chen, 34, had heard about the campaign; many people in his village, he told TIME, had been imprisoned at one time or another for defying the sterilization order. But he had no idea the campaign was so widespread. After discussing the issue with lawyer friends in Beijing, Chen decided to file a class action against Linyi officials for contravening national family-planning law. Chinese journalists traveled to Shandong to chronicle his mission but were not allowed to publish articles about him in the domestic press.

By mid-August, Chen was under house arrest for his activities. Seven people, he and his wife say, were stationed outside his home to watch him. But Chen felt he had to escape to Beijing to continue with the lawsuit. On the evening of Aug. 25, while police snoozed outside, he sneaked out in the dark. Hearing someone follow him, Chen threw handfuls of gravel in different directions to confuse his pursuer. "The night gives me an advantage," says Chen. "I can navigate better than people with sight can." With a relative as a guide, Chen fled into fields of tall corn and walked for miles before meeting a friend who drove him to safety. But when Chen reached Beijing, four officials who had come from Linyi hassled him at the railway station. When he met again with TIME last week in Beijing, Chen's hands were shaking. Three hours after the interview, Linyi officials hustled him into a vehicle and took off. Chen is again under house arrest in Linyi.

Whistle-blowers in China often face retribution for publicizing official malfeasance. "I know I'm at risk, but I cannot give up, because people are depending on me," said Chen shortly before he was detained. Yet even if Chen is released from house arrest and his lawsuit succeeds, it will do little to change the fate of women like Hu Bingmei. When family-planning officials came to fetch her in May for a forced sterilization, Hu escaped with her two daughters to her parents' home in another village. Several days later, seven officials showed up, she says, grabbed her younger child and shoved the girl into a car. Afraid that her daughter would be abducted, Hu jumped into the vehicle with them. The car drove to the local family-planning clinic, where, Hu says, nurses threw her onto an operating table. "Other people were fine after their operations, but it hurt me so much, I could barely stand up," says Hu, 33. Two weeks later, doctors operated again and promised things would heal better. But even today, Hu doubles over in pain after just a few steps. "They told me they were doing this for my own good," says Hu. "But they have ruined my life."

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The Chen Guangcheng Report: Coercive Famly Planning in Linyi, 2005

Women’s Rights Without Frontiers obtained a report from Chen Guangcheng’s 2005 investigation into coercive family planning in Linyi County, Shandong Province. The following is an extract

Zhongxia Fang is a villager from Xiagou Village, Liangqiu Town, Fei City, Linyi County. The first time I [Teng Biao] met her was in Duozhuang, Mengyin County, when four people from Fei City came to report. More than twenty people guarded the village where Chen Guangcheng lived. We [Teng Biao and another lawyer] walked through the footpaths between fields and crossed Meng River to escape their monitor and assembled in Fei County.

Zhongxia told us her story briefly. She had repeated it many times:

“The Family Planning Officials inserted an intrauterine device in me after I gave birth to two daughters. I worked in another city since then and didn’t go to the Family Planning Office for the pregnancy check. But I was pregnant accidently again. The Family Planning Officials said I was in violation of the “Population and Family Planning Law of the Peoples Republic of China” and looked for me all around. On the lunar calendar November 9, 2004, they had a conversation with my mother and asked her to pay a deposit of 1,000 Yuan [$157]. My mother hid after that.

“Two months later, they found my mother-in-law. They seized her and smashed her belongings. She was seized and released altogether three times. They did the same to my third elder brother’s wife. On February 19, 2005, they seized my elder sister’s husband (Yongjun Hu, from Beiyan Village, west of Liangqiu Town). He was detained in the town Family Planning Office for a whole week and beaten twenty-seven times. Later they seized my nephew (Qiang Li, 27 years old), his wife and his child Ranran (one year old). My nephew was beaten fourteen times. His toenail was trod down by a Family Planning Official’s leather shoes. After that they seized my uncle’s wife (Shaoxiang Zhu, from the same village as I) and my husband’s younger sister (she comes from another town).

“They seized all my relatives they could find. On March, 2005, they seized my younger sister Zhongyan Fang (pregnant with her first child for three months). Seven or eight Family Planning Officials pushed her into a car and detained her for a whole day. They set her free after she paid 1,000 Yuan. My younger sister’s mother-in-law was also seized for a whole week. They didn’t give her anything to eat or drink. She was released after she paid 1,500 as so-called “tuition fee” [a fee for the cost of detention].

“My younger sister’s father-in-law was detained when he went there to send food to his wife. He was beaten by six or seven people in the Family Planning office. He ran out after one day’s detention. Then my husband’s nephew, my third aunt and her husband (Kaifeng Liu) as well as her granddaughter (not even four years old), my fourth aunt (Deying Xue), my uncle’s wife were all seized. My uncle’s wife was beaten in the car with rubber sticks all the way to the Family Planning Office. They stamped on her with leather shoes. She lost consciousness several times. Her kidney was so injured that she couldn’t do any manual work until now (proven by the medical record prescribed by expert from people’s hospital of Fei county).  They also seized my fifth elder brother’s wife’s younger sister (Xuelan Guo) and my third elder brother’s wife’s younger sister (Yufeng Chai).

“My third aunt’s husband phoned me:  “If you don’t come back, your aunt will be beaten to death.” I was forced to go back on 31st, March. I was already pregnant for seven months at that time and was forced to inject an oxytocic drug. My baby was aborted one day later. I had ligation at 9:00 in the morning of April 13, 2005.  They let my aunt go after that.”

Because of the practice of “implication” twenty-two of her relatives were seized, including three children, one pregnant woman and a woman more than 70 years old. This deeply shocked us. To confirm, I told her that I wanted to see her relatives.

The next day I met with her uncle’s wife Yunxiang Cao in Liangqiu town, Fei County. She said:

“At about 6:00 in the morning of March 9, a crowd of people (Feng, Women’s Section Officer was with them) came to seize me. I was making a fire in the courtyard at that time. They dragged me out and scolded me: ‘We didn’t have any rest the whole night. You benefit from your relative and we benefit from her too!’  Some of them beat me with rubber sticks. They forced me to walk faster. They took me in their car and forced me to lead them to seize my elder sister in Nanyan village.

“I lost consciousness. I crossed my legs and covered my mouth with my hands when I regained consciousness. My sister’s door was locked when we arrived at her home. They scolded: ‘Take the b__ch in the car!’ Later they pushed me down into the car and asked me to find her neighbors. They asked her neighbors to cheat her into coming back by saying that her mother was seriously sick. After she and her husband came back, they took them in the car. She worried about her granddaughter and said:  ‘What can I do with my granddaughter?’

“They took her granddaughter in their car as well. She begged them not to, but they disregarded that. They beat her and her husband in the Family Planning Office. They beat me eight times and detained me for three days. They let me go after I paid the fine. But I left the sequel of gatism [incontinence]. I still feel pain in my back until now. Because of that, my mother-in-law’s sickness got more serious as well. My two children didn’t go to school for two days because no one tended to them. All my piglets starved to death.”

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