Reggie Littlejohn had never met Chen Guangcheng, but she quickly became one of the foremost supporters and advocates for him after he underwent imprisonment and house arrest for exposing forced abortion campaigns.
Littlejohn communicated the best she could with Chen’s allies in China, relying on the Internet and underground messages from supporters of the human rights campaigner to speak with his friends and provide them details of the initiatives she was taking in the United States and around the world to draw attention to his plight.
Now that Chen has been allowed to come to the United States following his escape from home detention, Littlejohn, the president of Women’s Rights Without Frontiers, has finally had an opportunity to meet with Chen and his wife and family.
“I had the inexpressible joy of meeting with blind activist Chen Guangcheng in New York on Saturday,” Littlejohn says. “Chen’s wife, Yuan Weijing — herself a hero — and a translator were at the meeting as well. Chen wanted to thank me for all my years of work on his behalf.”
But Littlejohn says Chen understands how pro-life Americans have come together to support his work in China for victims of the one-child policy.
“At his request, I am writing to express his deep gratitude for all you have done for him. Your efforts had a real impact on raising the visibility of his case internationally and advocating persuasively for his freedom,” she said.
Littlejohn’s exuberance is clearly evident as she describes the time she spent with Chen this past weekend:
This was the most emotional meeting I’ve had in my life. I can’t express how it felt being so close to Chen and Yuan, after years of advocating tirelessly for their release, feeling anguish every time I received fresh word of torture, malnutrition, illness and lack of medical treatment, while he and his family languished, sometimes near death, on the other side of the earth. I never thought I would actually meet them. The cumulative strain of every sleepless night, every jetlagged day, all the weeks, months and years on the road away from home raising the visibility of their case melted away when I sat next to Chen and Yuan, free at last in New York City.Littlejohn said Chen gave her a challenge — one she looks forward to meeting.
It was an especially powerful moment when I showed Chen and Yuan the Chinese version of the “Free Chen” video that was so important in inspiring thousands to take action on their behalf all over the world. We were all misty-eyed watching it. Again, I never thought I’d be sitting in Greenwich Village with them, showing them this video. I almost had to pinch myself to believe this was really happening.
I also showed Chen and Yuan the 500 sunglasses portraits sent in from all over the world, and the 11,000 + signatures on the Free Chen petition. I told them about releasing The Chen Report in Chinese and English late last year, so that everyone would know the cases Chen was working on when he was detained in 2006.
Chen thanks each and every person who sent in a portrait or signed the petition, and everyone who donated to help finance these efforts. You played a part in Chen’s freedom!
For my part, since 2008 I have testified about Chen five times at the U.S. Congress, twice at the British Parliament, and once at the Irish and British Parliaments. I have briefed officials at the White House, State Department and Vatican, and have spoken at the Harvard and Stanford Law Schools. I have been interviewed on countless television and radio shows, including CNN, the BBC and Voice of America (broadcast throughout China), and have written dozens of blog posts and press releases. I also turned my two websites into “Free Chen” websites, one in English and one in Chinese. I did this not expecting Chen to be freed – this seemed an impossible dream – but merely because I felt compelled to do it.
All this effort seemed small when compared with the overwhelming reality that Chen Guangcheng and Yuan Weijing themselves were sitting next to me on a couch in New York City.
“Chen made one request of me. He wants me to learn Chinese so that we can communicate unimpeded,” she said. “I said I didn’t know if I could learn Chinese — it’s such a hard language, with its difficult tones. He said, “If I can escape from Donshigu Village, you can learn Mandarin.” He’s got a point, and I promised him I would learn it.”
“He told me to tell my friends that I’m learning Mandarin so that you can hold me accountable. Learning Mandarin is a big commitment, but I’ve already begun,” she added.
For Chen, Littlejohn, and others who work overtime to stop forced abortions and put an end to the one-child policy, the crusade has only just begun as well.