Human Rights Heroes
Chen Guangcheng, blind from an early age, taught himself law, to work on human rights issues in rural China. He was frequently referred to as the “barefoot lawyer” while he advocated for women’s rights, land rights, and the welfare of the poor. He is best known for accusing people of abuses in official family-planning practices, often involving claims of violence and forced abortions.
In 2005, Chen was placed under house arrest by Chinese officials, after organizing a class-action suit against authorities in Shandong province, for excessive enforcement of China’s one child policy. Under house arrest from September 2005 to March 2006, he was formally arrested in June 2006. He was charged with “damaging property and organizing a job to disturb traffic” and sentenced to four years and three months.
In 2010 Chen was released from prison but remained under house arrest at his home in Dongshigu Village. He and his wife were reportedly beaten shortly after a human rights group released a video of their home under intense police surveillance in February 2011. He was named a prisoner of conscience by Amnesty International.
In April 2012, Chen escaped his house arrest and fled to the U.S. Embassy in Beijing. After negotiations with the Chinese government, he, his wife, and his two children were granted U.S. visas and departed Beijing for New York City. He served in a faculty position at New York University until June 2013 and is currently advisor to several noted foundations in the US.