Chen Guangcheng (born 12 November 1971) is a Chinese civil rights activist who has worked on human rights issues in rural areas of the People’s Republic of China. Blind from an early age and self-taught in the law, Chen is frequently described as a „barefoot lawyer“ who advocates for women’s rights, land rights, and the welfare of the poor. He is best known for accusing people of abuses in official family-planning practices, often involving claims of violence and forced abortions.
In 2005, Chen gained international recognition for organising a landmark class-action lawsuit against authorities in Linyi, Shandong province, for the excessive enforcement of the one-child policy. As a result of this lawsuit, Chen was placed under house arrest from September 2005 to March 2006, with a formal arrest in June 2006. On 24 August 2006, Chen was sentenced to four years and three months for „damaging property and organising a mob to disturb traffic.“ He was released from prison in 2010 after serving his full sentence, but remained under house arrest or „soft detention“ at his home in Dongshigu Village. Chen and his wife were reportedly beaten shortly after a human rights group released a video of their home under intense police surveillance in February 2011.
Chen’s case received sustained international attention, with the U.S. State Department, the British Foreign Secretary, Human Rights Watch, and Amnesty International issuing appeals for his release; the latter group designated him a prisoner of conscience. Chen is a 2007 laureate of the Ramon Magsaysay Award and in 2006 was named to the Time 100.
In April 2012, Chen escaped his house arrest and fled to the U.S. Embassy in Beijing. After negotiations with the Chinese government, he left the embassy for medical treatment in early May 2012, and it was reported that China would consider allowing him to travel to the United States to study. On 19 May 2012, Chen, his wife, and his two children were granted U.S. visas and departed Beijing for New York City. In October 2013, Chen accepted a position with the conservative research group Witherspoon Institute, and a position at the Catholic University of America.