A prominent U.S.-based Chinese activist has warned of worsening human rights in his home country, saying threats to the Communist Party’s power are a “target for violence.”
Chen Guangcheng, a blind grass-roots lawyer and former political prisoner, called for a renewed focus on China’s ongoing crackdown on religious minorities.
“Human rights have declined and today are very bad,” Chen said of the current situation in China, according to the Catholic News Agency. The ruling Chinese Communist Party (CCP) is “afraid of losing power,” he said, and so “anything that threatens its power will be a target for violence.”
The 47-year-old Chen was giving a public lecture on Oct. 9 at the Catholic University of America in Washington D.C., where he is a distinguished fellow, as part of its human rights program.
Chen told those attending the lecture that many ordinary Chinese supported months-long pro-democracy street protests in Hong Kong, although they were too scared to say so, fearing repercussions from authorities.
“Many people in mainland China are not speaking out openly about Hong Kong,” Chen said, but “in their hearts, they support Hong Kong.”
Chinese President Xi Jinping said on Oct. 13 that any attempt to divide China will be crushed. Political tensions are rising over the crisis in Hong Kong, where protesters are demanding more equality and police accountability over force used to try and halt the demonstrations.
China is also facing U.S. pressure over its mass detention of Muslim ethnic minorities in the remote Xinjiang region, a campaign Beijing says is needed to halt religious extremism.
Chen said although China’s authorities deny a brutal crackdown on religious freedom, many Chinese “know the truth”.
He also called a 2018 pact between the Holy See and China over the appointment of Catholic bishops a “bad agreement”, but “it’s still hopeful for Catholics in China”.
China’s millions of Catholics have for decades been split between underground churches loyal to the Vatican and a state-sanctioned association, whose clergy are chosen by the Communist Party. But under the agreement, the Vatican will have a say in bishops appointed by the state church.
Yet despite the state’s human rights abuses, “the Communist Party is not the same as the Chinese people,” he said. “I believe in the Chinese people.”
A self-taught lawyer, Chen educated poor Chinese farmers on their rights in the nation’s northeast. He was detained in 2005 for exposing forced sterilization of women to meet China’s then one-child policy.
In a dramatic escape in 2012, Chen fled from house arrest with the help of other activists, making his way to the U.S. embassy in Beijing. From there, he negotiated his and his family’s safe passage to the U.S.