October 12, 2011 / 9:41 AM / 8 years ago

China paper chides officials over detention of blind activist

BEIJING (Reuters) - A popular Chinese newspaper chided authorities over the handling of secretive detention of a famed legal activist, Chen Guangcheng, whose long confinement in his home village has made him an international symbol of repressive controls.

The Global Times, one of China’s most widely read papers, said Western media and human rights organisations have been simplistic and ultimately counter-productive advocacy for Chen.

But the paper added that it was up to Chinese government officials to improve and be more open about Chen’s treatment.

The critical commentary about Chen in the Chinese-language Global Times marked a rare, if measured, breach in the country’s general silence about the detention of dissidents and human rights campaigners.

“There are a number of different views at large about whether Chen is under ‘soft detention’ and whether his household surveillance is legal,” said the paper, a tabloid owned by the People’s Daily, the ruling Communist Party’s main newspaper.

“Under these circumstances, we believe the relevant authorities of Linyi should provide sufficient information to the outside world,” said the paper, which often dwells on international news.

Chen, 39, is held in his home village in Linyi in eastern Shandong province, where he overcame blindness from childhood to school himself in law and advise residents complaining about land grabs, forced abortions and other abuses.

In 2006, he was sentenced to more than 4 years in jail on charges — vehemently denied by his wife and lawyers — that he whipped up a crowd that disrupted traffic and damaged property.

Since his formal release in 2010, he has been under pervasive guard in his home village, where reporters and supporters have been repeatedly blocked from entering.

Chen was among the Chinese rights advocates who some backers campaigned to receive the Nobel Peace Prize, which last year went to jailed Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo. China’s state-controlled media have generally stayed silent about him.

But the Global Times said authorities in Shandong owed the public an explanation about Chen’s treatment.

“Now the case of Chen Guangcheng has become exaggerated into a mirror of China’s human rights, and it seems that we need more experienced authorities to lance this boil,” said the paper.

“There’s no doubt that in some parts of China human rights at the grassroots have not reached ideal standards, but campaign-style efforts to improve them will not produce real results,” it added.

Despite its official background, the Global Times sometimes strays from the line laid down by propaganda authorities, especially in its sometimes ardently nationalist commentaries on international issues.

Chen was beaten unconscious and not allowed to visit a doctor by village guards, his wife, Yuan Weijing, said in a letter released by a U.S. advocacy group in June.

Earlier this year, China cracked down on potential political challengers, worried that anti-authoritarian uprisings in the Arab world could inspire protests against one-party rule.

Hundreds of dissidents, rights campaigners and persistent protesters were detained, often in secretive, informal settings. Most have since been released, but many remain under tight official surveillance.

Reporting by Chris Buckley; Editing by Yoko Nishikawa

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