x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 21 January 2018

Blind courage in China

The personal courage and extraordinary efforts of a network of friends helped Chinese activist defy security and escape from house arrest.

The recent escape of Chen Guangcheng from house arrest has caught the public's imagination. Last week, the news broke that the blind Chinese activist, one of China's most well-known human-rights advocates, had somehow eluded his security detail (about 100 official security personnel and paid neighbourhood thugs) and sought refuge in Beijing. Unconfirmed reports say that Mr Chen is now at the US embassy, entangling the relations of great powers in this tale of intrigue.

The immediate question, only partly answered, is how a blind man could engineer such an impressive escape. The answer, obviously, is personal courage and extraordinary efforts of a network of friends. More details of the story emerged yesterday - Mr Chen apparently scaled a wall and was spirited away by friends who had spent months planning the escape. Also yesterday, reports suggested that Mr Chen's friends and fellow activists were being interrogated by Chinese authorities or had simply disappeared.

Mr Chen first came to prominence for reporting on forced sterilisations related to China's one-child policy. He has spent years under house arrest, and been repeatedly beaten by authorities. His supporters doubtlessly knew they risked a similar fate - and determined to help him anyway.