Chen Guangcheng

Chen Guangcheng (b. 1971) is a Chinese civil rights activist who was in news in 2012 for a daring night-time escape from illegal house arrest to the American Embassy in Beijing in April. Blind from an early age and self-taught in the law, Chen is frequently described as a "barefoot lawyer" who advocates women’s rights and the welfare of the poor. He has worked on human rights issues in rural areas of PRC.

Even Chinese central government had earlier recognised Chen with an award for his advocacy of the rights of the disabled. But he incurred the wrath of corrupt local officials in his native province of Shandong when he led a public campaign six years ago against forced abortions carried out to meet the birth quota imposed under the infamous one-child policy. Later, Chen was unjustly convicted on charges of “obstructing traffic and destroying property” and sentenced to four years of imprisonment. He was released in 2010 and after the local officials erected a high wall around Chen’s house, hired dozens of goons to keep Chen locked inside his home, and installed a device to block cellphone signals. Such acts would have been considered criminal in any society. Despite protests by Chinese human rights activists and complaints from Western leaders (including American Secretary of State Hillary Clinton), Beijing refused to intervene. When Chinese human rights activists tried to visit Chen, they were beaten up and kept out of his village. Even the Oscar-winning Hollywood star, Christian Bale, was roughed up by the same goons last year when he attempted to see Chen.

Chen’s illegal house arrest would have continued indefinitely had he and a network of activists not staged one of the greatest escapes in history. Chen fooled his captors by pretending to be bed-ridden for several months and then, on a moonless night, scaled the wall and was picked up by a friend who drove him to Beijing. After hearing Chen’s pleas for protection, Hillary Clinton authorised American diplomats to smuggle him into the embassy. On May 19 last month, Chen finally left for New York.

Currently, he is a special student at the U.S.-Asia Law Institute at the New York University School of Law.