Chen Guangcheng - known as the 'barefoot lawyer' - is a blind dissident who was jailed for organising a class action over forced abortions in a city in Shandong.
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SBS

3 May 2012 - 11:47 AM  UPDATED 26 Aug 2013 - 10:48 AM

Chen Guangcheng - known as the 'barefoot lawyer' - is a blind dissident who was jailed for organising a class action against a city where forced abortions were performed.

Born 12 November, 1971 in a small village in Shandong, Chen became blind at an early age due to a fever.

He remained illiterate until the age of 23, when he was enrolled in a high school for the blind, graduating in 1998.

Interested in the law already, Chen apparently used to ask his brothers to read legal texts to him.

He studied acupuncture and massage at Nanjing University of Chinese Medicine from 1998 to 2001, then worked as a masseur in a hospital in Yinan county

During this time, he was known for helping villagers with legal matters.

In 2005, Chen organised a class-action lawsuit against the city of Linyi in Shandong where he alleged forced abortions were being performed to enforce China's one-child policy.

Residents had accused local officials of forcing thousands of people to undergo sterilization or to abort pregnancies, the Washington Post reported.

On August 12, 2005, Chen and his family were placed under house arrest, according to Human Rights Watch.

There are claims that between 20 and 300 police and civilians were employed to keep watch on him around the clock.

In September, Chen escaped to Beijing as his supporters mobilised an online campaign to free him, only to be caught and placed back under house arrest.

In the meantime, China's National Population and Family Planning Commission responded to the case he had brought against Linyi, saying those responsible for forced abortions had dismissed and detained, with some under investigation.

Lawyers that tried to visit Chen at his home were beaten, as was Chen himself. There are several accounts of beatings from the course of Chen's imprisonment, with death threats against lawyers who attempted to visit or assist him also reported.

In 2006, Chen disappeard for three months, with Yinan county officials acknowledging he was in their custody in June.

In August, Chen was convicted of 'damaging property and disturbing public order' after activists demanding his release allegedly hindered traffic. He was sentenced to four years in prison.

He was released in 2010, but kept under house arrest along with his wife. An hour-long video allegedly filmed by Chen showing the conditions they were kept in was smuggled out of China by ChinaAid.

He and his wife were reportedly severely beaten after that.

After escaping into US hands in April, 2012, Chen released a video urging Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao to punish those responsible for detaining and beating his wife and himself.

More than a dozen men had wrapped his wife in a blanket, kicking and beating her, he said.