Beijing Standoff

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A strange story is unfolding in Beijing. It involves dissidents, secret policemen, a jailed blind activist and a tense standoff which has security officials besieging an apartment in which an activist and her daughter are holed up and refusing to leave for fear of being kidnapped– by police.

Last Thursday, Yuan Weijing, the wife of that blind activist Chen Guangcheng, slipped out the back door of her home in a village in Shandong Province, evaded the guards stationed nearby and caught a bus up to Beijing with her 2 year old daughter. When she arrived she went straight to the apartment of another activist, Hu Jia, which was somewhat strange as Hu and his wife Zeng Jinyan, had only recently been released from house arrest themselves. (Zeng was selected earlier this year as one of Time’s 100 most influential people for her efforts via the internet to secure his freedom after he was arrested last year.) Yuan, however, is a determined lady and had decided to come up to Beijing to speak with a human rights officer at the U.S. embassy about her husband’s case. Chen, a self-trained lawyer about whom TIME has written often, most recently on this blog, is serving a prison sentence for, well, easier to just go to this story for background. Anyway, Chen was beaten in prison, allegedly for refusing to have his head shaved (the mark of a convict), and went on hunger strike for three days. After a visit in which she found him in a pretty parlous state, Yuan persuaded him to give up his hunger strike. She also decided to come up to Beijing in pursuit of her campaign to allow Chen –who has been blind since childhood–to serve his prison term at home, as is allowed under Chinese law when medical conditions suit, as is the case with blindness. He is hardly a danger to the public.

Yuan, her daughter, Hu and Zeng all set out for the embassy on Friday but were blocked from leaving by police stationed outside their apartment block. Hu, who says he recognizes some of them men, alleges that both the ordinary Beijing police and the State Security Bureau (the guys to worry about) are represented among the three carloads of guards assigned to them. Yuan also says that some of the men are from her home province of Shandong and are intent on kidnapping her and taking her back. This wouldn’t be unusual as that’s exactly how Chen himself was detained back in 2005, shortly after a meeting with a Time reporter. We spoke to Yuan on the phone and she said she will wait out the police for the time being, but can’t leave the apartment for fear of being kidnapped. Here’s what she had to say:

“I am not a criminal but I have had no freedom since August 20, 2005. (when Chen was detained) There are people watching me all the time. This time, I escaped from home. The situation that my husband is in left me with no choice. Even though they are downstairs trying to kidnap me like they did with my husband, they are wrong if they think they are going to stop me from doing what I came to Beijing to do. When I am finished with my work here, I will leave.”

It could be a long standoff.