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Lawyer's footage of house arrest published in China

Men in plainclothes recently harassed at least six foreign journalists in Shandong province. Vivid news footage shoes a group pelting CNN reporter Stan Grant and his photographer with rocks when they tried to visit the home of an activist under house arrest. Brice Pedroletti from France's Le Monde, Stephane Lagarde with Radio France Internationale, and an unnamed New York Times journalist and photographer underwent similar confrontations in February, according to Agence France-Presse. 

They were trying to interview Chen Guangcheng, a blind, self-taught lawyer released from prison in September 2010, who recently released a video documenting the surveillance he is under in his home in Linyi city, Shandong province. The hour-long footage was published February 9 on the website of the U.S.-based China Aid Association. Hong Kong-based Chinese Human Rights Defenders said public security bureau officials brutally beat Chen and his wife Yuan Weijing for smuggling the video out of the house. Another U.S.-based group, Human Rights in China, said its sources had not been able to independently confirm that report. 

Chen served over four years in prison after he helped villagers in his native Shandong file a lawsuit against city officials for forced abortions and sterilizations, according to international news reports. His wife was under surveillance during his imprisonment, and they have both been under house arrest since his release, with phone lines and the Internet cut, the reports said.

Chinese media do not cover Chen's case. Men surrounding the house punched and shoved investigative reporter Wang Keqin when he tried to visit the house in 2009, according to an EastSouthWestNorth translation of his blog. Chen's video, passed to contacts overseas by an anonymous intermediary, is the only way news about Chen's situation can get out. Zeng Jinyan, wife of imprisoned journalist Hu Jia, also communicates under heavy surveillance using digital tools.

"Since the rise of the Web, blogs, and Twitter, we see that we the people have now got a chance to speak out," Chen said in the video, according to English subtitles provided by the China Aid Association. "Now that we the people have got our voice it is almost impossible to block all the information."

Chinese blogger Zhai Minglei, author of the blog Yibao ("One Man's Newspaper") has republished the video, according to the China Digital Times. But he emphasizes the risks to Chen for circulating the footage. Zhai describes Yuan's appeal: "If something happens after the video is distributed, may our friends look after our two children."

"I understand," Zhai writes, according to the China Digital Times translation. "With the release of this wake-up call to the Chinese people, the couple prepared for the worst." In the Internet age, activists have the tools to write their own news--but the penalties could be severe. 

CPJ's analysis of China's media in 2010 is available here.

February 22, 2011 5:10 PM ET |

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