I recently learned that former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton dedicated an entire chapter of her new book, “Hard Choices,” to the story of how she and her staff at the U.S. Embassy in Beijing gave me refuge and negotiated my safe travel to the United States after I escaped from illegal house arrest. I’m grateful for her decision to allow me to take sanctuary in the embassy. But I fear that my safe arrival in the United States has given the mistaken impression, as Clinton wrote, that Chinese authorities were “scrupulous” in living up to their agreement with the United States. Nothing could be further from the truth.
Not only has the Chinese government relentlessly persecuted members of my family since my departure, it also never investigated its prior abuses, as it committed to do. And it imprisoned my nephew, who remains in jail today.
By the time I arrived in the United States two years ago, many people knew about my journey. As a self-trained “barefoot” lawyer, I believed I could use the Chinese constitution — the government’s sacred promise to its people — to promote social justice and benefit my community. But I quickly learned that the rule of law means nothing in the face of tyranny and impunity. Like so many before me, I was jailed on fabricated charges. Even after my release, Chinese officials placed me under house arrest with no legal justification. To keep me in line, my entire family was targeted for persecution — an indication of just how badly the regime has lost its moral center.
After I escaped from house arrest and fled to Beijing, the targeting of my family worsened dramatically. Communist Party officials and thugs descended upon the home of my brother, Chen Guangfu, who was arrested without a warrant, interrogated about my escape and tortured. The intruders also beat my sister-in-law and nephew, Chen Kegui, who was able to escape temporarily by defending himself from the onslaught with a kitchen knife. However, authorities arrested Kegui on April 29, 2012, and eventually sentenced him to more than three years in prison, where he remains today.
Clinton and her staff were keenly aware of the attacks on my family. Eventually, as a result of efforts on many fronts, the Chinese authorities had no choice but to allow me, my wife and my children to leave for the United States. But U.S. officials told me they had secured a commitment from Chinese officials to investigate and stop the harassment, intimidation and violent attacks against my extended family. Despite this agreement, the persecution has continued.
Kegui has struggled to get timely access to medical treatment, and his parents have been repeatedly detained. My brother was run off the road on his motorcycle and beaten. Posters put up in our village accuse my family of treason. And other members of my family have been detained and questioned.
I’ve been working to secure my nephew’s freedom since arriving in the United States. Today, with Freedom Now, an organization that has been helping my nephew, we are pleased to make public an opinion from the U.N. Working Group on Arbitrary Detention. It finds that Kegui’s continued imprisonment violates international law and calls for his immediate release. Unfortunately, if past is truly prologue, much more than a well-reasoned legal opinion from the United Nations will be required to free him. The United States and others must pressure China to meet its international obligations.
To this day, my family and I wait for China to keep the promise it made to the United States. I will always be indebted to the people of the United States for their generosity and kindness in my most desperate hour. As Clinton said in reflecting on our journey together, the “defense of universal human rights is one of America’s greatest sources of strength.” Some have asked whether President Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry will ensure that China finally fulfills its promise. I would very much like to meet with Kerry and national security adviser Susan Rice to discuss what more they can do to help. My freedom is proof that their efforts can make all the difference.
Chen Guangcheng is a distinguished senior fellow in human rights at the Witherspoon Institute, distinguished visiting fellow of the Institute for Policy Research and Catholic Studies at Catholic University and senior distinguished adviser at the Lantos Foundation for Human Rights and Justice.