WASHINGTON – Several protesters were arrested outside the White House today while lobbying the president for help for Chen Guangcheng, the blind Chinese attorney and human rights activist who gained international attention for exposing the brutality of his government’s one-child policy.
A crowd of “Free Chen” demonstrators prayed and urged Barack Obama to provide asylum to Chen and his family. Some 35 minutes into their prayer vigil, U.S. Park Police set up yellow-tape barriers and ordered everyone, including the demonstrators, tourists, workers on lunch break and journalists, to get off the sidewalk and go across the street to Lafayette Park.
Several demonstrators who refused to leave were arrested.
Chen has been working with the help of his wife, Yuan Weijing, to expose the brutality of China’s one-child policy. They have revealed that Chinese officials abduct pregnant mothers; abort their unborn babies; and sterilize the women.
After years of living under house arrest, reportedly harassed and guarded by some 90 Chinese officials, Chen escaped over a high fence and, with the help of friends, went to the U.S. embassy in Beijing on April 22.
The New York Times quoted one of his supporters, who described Chen getting past layers of guards and over a wall in the dark of night. “‘You know he’s blind, so the night to him is nothing,’ Mr. Ai said the friend told him. ‘I think that’s a perfect metaphor.’”
However, just prior to Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton’s arrival in Beijing for an unrelated diplomatic visit this week, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for East Asia and Pacific Affairs Kurt Campbell and U.S. Ambassador to China Gary Locke walked Chen out of the embassy and sent him to a hospital.
Chen had been injured during his escape journey and he said he was told by Chinese officials they had captured his wife, they had beaten her for two days, and they would beat her to death if he didn’t leave U.S. custody.
Rev. Rob Schenck of Faith and Action and Rev. Patrick Mahoney of the Christian Defense Coalition called for a prayer vigil at the White House in response. Schenck wasn’t in Washington for the vigil, but said in his online announcement, “I’m gravely concerned and deeply saddened … What so distresses and alarms me is the cowardly way the administration sold out a hero of the faith. I’m speaking about Chen Guangcheng, the blind dissident in China who first revealed to the public the abhorrent practice of forced abortions and sterilization to sustain China’s ‘one child’ policy.”
Schenck further emphasized: “It appears the Obama administration has betrayed Mr. Chen by allowing him to be placed into the hands of the Chinese government without assuring that his rights and his safety would be protected. … Our officials assured him that if he went to the hospital they would make certain he was safe. Once in the hospital, it seems our ‘officials’ abandoned him.”
Schenck called everyone to join Mahoney in praying and speaking out at the White House and further stressed: “He [Chen] expressed dismay that the American government failed him – even misled him. If that is true, and we have no reason not to believe that Mr. Chen is telling the truth, the actions of our ‘officials’ are a national embarrassment, a national disgrace. We cannot let that stand!”
Yesterday, Schenck’s staff had emergency meetings with members of Congress, including Rep. Chris Smith, R-N.J., chair of the Congressional-Executive Committee on China, who also held an emergency hearing where he received a telephone call from Chen pleading to meet with Clinton, request her help and thank her.
Chen told Melinda Liu, a friend at thedailybeast.com, “My fervent hope is that it would be possible for me and my family to leave for the U.S. on Hillary Clinton’s plane.”
Today at the White House, Mahoney knelt, prayed and held a handmade sign saying “Pres Obama STAND for HUMAN RIGHTS!”
Tina Whittington of Students for Life of America held a sign saying “FREE CHEN!!”
Mahoney’s wife, Katie, stood near her husband. Other demonstrators included Father Victor Salomon of Priests for Life, Charmaine Yoest of Americans United for Life, Sarah Maher, a Wilberforce fellow at Students for Life of America, and Wiley Drake, a Christian minister from California.
At least 11 police vehicles were present and when WND asked an officer why everyone was being barred from the sidewalk, he said “Because we’re barring people from the sidewalk.”
The Mahoneys, Whittington, Maker, Wiley and other companions peacefully allowed police to arrest them. As Mahoney was led to the police van, he called out to the crowd of onlookers urging them to pray for Chen.
Salomon stepped behind the tape because he’s from Venezuela as a missionary to Hispanics in America. Nevertheless, while his friends were being arrested, he yelled over and over: “Freedom! Free Chen now!”
And he told WND: “We are here like good Samaritans, very concerned about the health of our brother, Guangcheng Chen, and his family. We are here to stand up for him, asking the governments of China and the United States [to] help him to recover because he’s suffering a lot.
“I’m not an American. I’m a poor priest working here in the United States, but I know you Americans always stand up for the poor, for people in need, like the good Samaritan,” said Salomon. “So we are praying for the government, the president, to do the right thing. We are praying for wisdom.”
Yoest had her children and one of their young friends with her, so she couldn’t risk being arrested either.
However, she told WND: “We came out for peaceful demonstrations for Chen Guangcheng and now, the fact that this is a completely peaceful protest with people praying in front of the White House, they’ve arrested people – taken them away, put handcuffs on them behind their backs, put them into a white van and hauled them away in the United States of America. This is an outrage.”
Yoest saw a connection between the Chinese government’s crackdown on Chen and the U.S. government arresting her fellow and sister human rights activists.
She said, “I brought my kids out here to teach them about American government because we believe in standing for life and standing for principle. In the United States of America, one of our most precious principles is being able to stand and protest peacefully, and yet the United States Park Service has arrested people and hauled them away simply for praying in front of the White House for a Chinese national who is trying to stand up for human rights and for freedom. That’s what America is supposed to stand for and yet they are betraying that very principle, not only by how they are treating Chen and his request for American assistance, but by hauling American citizens away for protesting in front of the White House. I’m absolutely appalled.”