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Exiled Chinese Dissident Receives Award for Moral Courage

  • Lisa Schlein

Blind Chinese dissident Chen Guangcheng addresses the sixth Geneva Summit for Human Rights and Democracy after receiving its first Courage Award, in Geneva, Feb. 25, 2014.
The Geneva Summit for Human Rights and Democracy has just bestowed its first Courage Award to Chinese dissident, Chen Guangcheng. The blind lawyer, who escaped Chinese arrest and fled to the United States in 2012, says he will not give up his struggle for the Chinese government to respect the rights of its people.

The chairman of U.N. Watch, Alfred Moses presented the award to Chen on behalf of a global coalition of dissidents and 20 non-governmental organizations.

“He is truly a moral hero," he said. "We look for the day when the world is transformed.”

Chen was born blind and grew up illiterate in rural China. He is a self-taught lawyer who has championed the cause of disenfranchised peasants and the disabled. He said the Chinese government tolerated these pursuits, but clamped down when he began defending women forced to undergo abortions and sterilization.

Dramatic escape

Chen spent four years in prison and was put under house arrest upon his release in 2012. He made a dramatic escape to the U.S. Embassy in Beijing and went on to the United States with his family.

Chen said he will continue to work to end China’s oppression of its citizens. But he remains very worried about his family back home. He said the government threatens his family to keep him silent.

“They will use the next generation, your children, your family, your parents as a threat and they would not stop," said Chen. "As I just said, my nephew is still in the prison that I was in… ever since I left, the threat, the terror they do to them -- it never stops. And, they are using several methods to watch the village I am from.”

Threat of reprisal

Despite the threat of reprisal, Chen said he believes he still can be effective and influence events in China, even from exile.

He said today’s technological advances make it possible for him and other dissidents to spread the message of human rights no matter where they live.

“You can help the activists and those who are oppressed to fight for human rights. If we work hard and work together, then location and distance is no longer a problem," said Chen. "The only problem is that we do not have enough confidence. I feel if we continue to do this, China will change, and I hold the firm belief that these days will not be far.”

Chen said Tibet remains one of China’s biggest problems, adding that it need not be. He said he has met the Dalai Lama several times and the religious leader has never asked for independence for Tibet. He said the communist government pretends not to hear what the Dalai Lama is saying.