Chen Guangcheng, the courageous human rights lawyer in China, who has been subjected to brutal "house arrest" for years, has escaped his captors and is apparently in hiding, perhaps in the US embassy, in Beijing. Here's what I blogged five and a half years ago:
Chen Guangcheng believes in the rule of law. He believes that the law should apply equally to everyone. He believes that government officials who break the law should be held accountable. He is performing a civic duty precisely in line with the Communique of the Sixth Plenum [of the 16th Central Committee]. But he has been arrested and brutalized. His tormentors have made a mockery of the very idea of the rule of law. And until President Hu Jintao finds the political courage to allow the law to develop in a truly equal and just manner, until he accepts that idea that honest people like Chen Guangcheng have a right and a duty to demand that the law apply to everyone equally, including Communist Party officials, until then the words of the Communique are empty.
Hu Jintao has not had the political courage to do the right thing for all these years. Nor has Wen Jiabao. Indeed, Chen, in the midst of his escape, has put out a video directly asking Wen for justice:
Let's hope that the Party Center let's him go free. I fear, however, that that will not be the outcome.
In a way, this is a test of whether the Center is willing to embrace something like a Confucian ethic. I see Chen as a genuinely Mencius-like figure. He stands consistently for fairness and justice for the powerless, and he is willing to speak up to the powers that be, demanding redress for legal and economic inequality. And his righteousness is obvious to all who know him. Clearly, the right thing to do is free him from the brutal, illegal, deeply inhumane assaults he has suffered for so long.
But I am afraid the Center will show itself to be the bastion of hard-line Legalism that it has always been. They will interpret Chen as a challenge to their power and they will find a way to crush him. Or if they exile him, they will punish those who have supported him.
All we can do is stand in witness and call for justice:
Free Chen Guangcheng!