By Human Rights Graduate Student, Gillian Richards

     This past Friday, Chinese human rights lawyer Chen Guangcheng shared with the Master’s students his story of courage in the face of tyranny. This day marked the ten-year anniversary of his escape from house arrest in the village of Dongshigu.

     Despite being blind from an early age, Chen was determined to learn the law so he could hold the CCP accountable for its human rights abuses. Early in his legal career, Chen sued officials for illegally charging blind people ticket fares, in violation of the mandate that public transportation be free for handicapped persons.

     Chen continued to expose the CCP’s lawlessness in his investigation of the One Child Policy. He collected accounts of women in Shandong province who were forced to undergo sterilizations and abortions. Despite the Communist Party’s stated goal—to move away from such practices in favor of financial incentives in implementing the One Child Policy—Chen’s findings showed coercion was still ongoing and widespread. He filed a class-action lawsuit in 2005, which was rejected by the CCP. His investigation was later released online.

     In response, party officials kidnapped Chen and placed him under house arrest with his family. Refusing to cease in his activism, he was eventually detained and sentenced to over four years in prison. After serving his sentence, he returned home, only to discover it too had become a prison. Officials surrounded their village, cut their phone lines, and implemented other harassment tactics. Meanwhile, Chinese media headlines declared “Chen Guangcheng is Free!”

     In February 2011, officials stormed Chen and his wife’s home after a video documenting their living conditions was released. They kicked his wife until her ribs were broken and beat and tortured Chen. They even put dirty rocks in his mouth. The police then searched his home with metal detectors for any recording devices. This happened many times. By July, nine guards lived in their home.

     On April 22, 2012, Chen miraculously escaped his village and found refuge at the American embassy in Beijing. Soon after, he fled to the United States along with his wife and two children. This past year, Chen was named a Bradley Prize Winner.

     Reflecting on his work as a lawyer, Chen explained that he originally studied law as a framework to defend the rights Chinese citizens in court. What he found, however, was that above and outside the law stands the Chinese Communist Party. The CCP only upholds the law when it can be used to their benefit—and human rights have no place in this agenda. As Chen described, “Talking about human rights in an authoritarian regime is like talking about traffic laws in the desert.”

     Since his escape, Chen has continued exposing the atrocities of the Chinese Party’s regime. And its influence is only growing. Even in the U.S., the Communist Party has infiltrated academia, Hollywood, and major corporations. To be sure, cooperation with the CCP confers financial benefits. But as Chen stated plainly: the CCP is an enemy of humanity. The world will never be safe if the West does not oppose its global reach. Thus, foregoing business with the CCP is a cost we must be willing to bear.

     It was an honor to hear the testimony, first-hand, of such a staunch defender of human rights. Despite harassment, torture, and imprisonment, Chen Guangcheng never abandoned his mission in upholding the truth. His story is both an inspiration and a wakeup call to those in the free world who must oppose tyranny as a matter of justice.