Blind civil rights activist Chen Guangcheng who had been under house arrest for 20 months since his release from prison on September 8, 2010 has finally escaped from Dongshigu Village in Shandong province. On the other hand, He Peirong (“Pearl”) who helped Chen escape to Beijing has been swept away by police from her home in Nanjing on Friday April 27, 2012.
Since February, 2011 Pearl He has been trying to visit Chen Guangcheng under house arrest while campaigning for his release. A few months ago I interviewed her briefly about her activist's path for a research project on Gender and Citizenship conducted by the organisation IT for Change. Below is a summary of the online interview:
Who is He Peirong?
Pearl lives in Nanjing city, Jiangsu province. She had been an English teacher until 2008 when the Wenchuan Earthquake took place. She left her job and went to Sichuan as a volunteer for earthquake relief work. A few months later, the Sichuan government started cracking down on citizen initiated disaster relief groups and a citizen investigation of bean-dreg school building constructions. A number of activists including Tan Zuoren and Huang Qi were arrested. Then Pearl decided to join an activist group to provide assistance to political prisoners and their families. Her first campaign consisted of fundraising via Twitter. Through the campaign, she was connected to a wider network of like-minded people and later decided to campaign for Chen Guangcheng.
In September 2011, upon learning that Chen's 6-year-old daughter could not attend school due to illegal house arrest, she urged other netizens to visit Chen's family in Dongshigu Village. She tried entering the village twice herself but was beaten up by local thugs. After several failed attempts, she changed her strategy to online campaigns by raising public and international awareness of Chen's condition. [Many netizens have spontaneously joined hand to campaign for Chen's freedom], one of the most well known action is the “Free Guangcheng: Dark Glasses Portrait” by Hexie Farm:
Pearl never gave up on the idea of getting Chen physically out of the village. Now Guangcheng is free and has spoken out to the world on the illegal prosecution committed by local government in Linyi county, Shandong province.
However, Pearl has been missing since April 27 shortly after the news of Guangcheng's escape spread through the Internet. Her last tweet [zh] is about the safety of Guangcheng's brother:
Campaigning for Pearl's release
Zeng Jinyan, whose husband Hu Jia has met with Chen Guangcheng upon his escape also pleaded [zh]:
The significance of Chen's prison break
Prominent video activist, Prof Ai Xiaoming sums up [zh] in his blog the significance of Chen and his supporters’ prison break action: