GENEVA (AFP) – Exiled, blind Chinese activist Chen Guangcheng laments that Beijing is cracking down harder than ever on human rights defenders, but says the leadership should brace for a Ukraine-style uprising.
“It is possible for the Chinese to have a similar revolution to the one in Ukraine. It could happen any time,” Chen told AFP through a translator.
The 42-year-old self-taught lawyer who has been blind since childhood currently lives in New York with his family after dramatically escaping house arrest in China in 2012.
But he says he keeps in close contact with activists in China and has registered a clear worsening of their situation, with more threats, more violence and more arrests.
“There are many, so very many” arrests, said Chen, wearing a suit and mirrored sunglasses.
He pointed for instance to the arrest late last month of the parents of human rights activist Xue Mingkai, who had spent four years in prison for joining a banned party.
While in custody, the father, Xue Fushun, plunged to his death from a window several stories up, in what police said was a suicide — a fact disputed by his loved ones.
But while more activists are being harassed and arrested, “there are also many more people demonstrating,” Chen said, speaking on the sidelines of the 2014 Geneva Summit for human rights activists, where he on Tuesday received the annual “Courage Award”.
“We will never stop this fight as long as China is not a free, democratic country that respects human rights,” he told the assembly upon receiving his prize.
To AFP, he said the tumultuous events in Ukraine with the sudden weekend regime change there had strengthened the confidence and resolve of government opponents in China to push for change.
– Government losing control –
“People are saying this every day. My friends on the Internet are saying that if it could happen overnight in Ukraine, it will happen for us,” he said with a broad smile.
China’s ruling Communist party maintains an iron grip on the country, including subjecting the Internet to strict censorship, and spends vast amounts on internal security. It is particularly wary of organised dissent and members of dissident movements, however small, are liable to face prosecution for their actions.
Chen, who as a self-taught lawyer exposed forced abortions carried out by authorities as they implemented China’s one-child policy, said he did not think the authorities would willingly loosen their controls on that issue or any other.
Even so, he said, “that doesn’t mean that China isn’t changing. The citizens are changing. They no longer accept that the Communist Party decides everything”.
“The government is increasingly losing control,” said Chen, who himself spent four years in a Chinese prison before being released into house arrest in 2010.
He has said that he and his wife were subjected to severe beatings under house arrest for refusing to stay quiet about a range of human rights abuses they took issue with.
The blind activist sparked a diplomatic crisis between Washington and Beijing when he in April 2012 scaled the walls of his home and fled in a getaway car to the US embassy in Beijing on the eve of a visit by then secretary of state Hillary Clinton.
China allowed him to move to the United States, where he is currently continuing to push for human rights reform in China through three different organisations, including the conservative Witherspoon Institute.
He remains deeply concerned about his many family members back in China, who he says face threats, and especially a jailed nephew with a serious medical condition, who he said had been denied access to a doctor.
But such abuses will soon be a thing of the past, he insisted.
“We are not going to have to wait decades for things to change. It’s already happening.”