The surprising escape of a blind legal activist from house arrest is buoying China's embattled dissident community, even as the government cracks down on those who helped him.
Chinese human rights advocate Chen Guangcheng is one of the most famous Chinese dissidents internationally, though little known in China. A blind, self-taught lawyer, he was imprisoned in 2006 for four years for angering Shandong officials by his efforts to help women who were subjected to forced abortions and sterilizations as part of China’s one-child policy. He was found guilty of destroying property and obstructing traffic.
Though he was released from prison in September 2010, he was kept under house arrest with his wife and daughter. Attempts by friends, activists, foreign diplomats, and journalists to visit Chen were repelled, often violently, by teams of security men in plain clothes.
In late April his dramatic escape, and video plea to Premier Wen Jiabao to investigate his illegal detention and mistreatment, made international headlines.
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