POSTED: 1:30 a.m. HST, Feb 10, 2011
BEIJING >> A Chinese activist lawyer who has been under house arrest since his prison release last fall says his home is watched around the clock and he and his family aren’t allowed to leave, a secretly shot video released Thursday reveals.
The video is the first word from Chen Guangcheng since he was released from prison in September. Chen is among China’s most well-known activists, and U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton mentioned him in a speech shortly before Chinese President Hu Jintao’s visit to Washington last month.
The U.S.-based China Aid Association said it got the video early Wednesday from an “anonymous government friend inside China” who is upset about the way Chen and his family are being treated. The rights group then posted the video on YouTube.
“I have come out of a small jail and walked into a bigger jail,” Chen says in the video, wearing black sunglasses and a black jacket inside his modest home. He says his house is watched by 22 people.
The hourlong video opens with an image of a man, described as one of the constant minders, peering over a pile of cornstalks the family had put by a window to try to limit the surveillance.
Chen says in the video that his house arrest is being directed by the central government, and not by local officials.
The blind, self-taught lawyer was sent to prison in 2006 after documenting forced late-term abortions and sterilizations and other abuses in his rural community.
Since his release, media and supporters have not been able to reach his home in eastern Shandong province. Associated Press reporters in September were chased away by stick-carrying men who threatened to smash the reporters’ car if they didn’t leave.
In the video, Chen says authorities have created a security zone that includes blocks on cell phone calls and intimidation of his family and neighbors, in addition to the constant surveillance.
“He said he knows that by releasing this video there are risks, but he is ready,” Bob Fu, president of the China Aid Association, a Christian rights group, said from Washington. “He said somebody has to fight for justice. He was very direct. One thing that really surprised me was his spirit of boldness, bravery, defiance to the regime itself.”
Fu said he mentioned the video to the U.S. assistant secretary of state for human rights, Michael Posner.
“He’s very concerned,” Fu said.
“Soft detention” is a common tactic used by the Chinese government to intimidate activists, with some essentially put under house arrest for years.
An official from the public security bureau of Yinan County, which oversees Dongshigu village, where Chen lives, said Thursday that she had no knowledge of Chen. She only gave her surname, Gao.
The Communist Party propaganda department’s head for Yinan, Xue Jie, said he was in a meeting and declined to comment.