REUTERS - The biggest challenge for China's next leaders is confronting a lawless police state nurtured by the Communist Party's own drive to put top-down control ahead of human rights, blind activist Chen Guangcheng has written.
Chen laid down his challenge to China's next central leaders, who will be unveiled at a party congress later this year, in an opinion column for the New York Times that appeared online Tuesday night east coast time.
"The fundamental question the Chinese government must face is lawlessness," wrote Chen. "China does not lack laws, but the rule of law."
Chen is in New York where he will study after escaping 19 months of house imprisonment in eastern Shandong province and taking shelter in the U.S. embassy, a drama that focused world attention on China's poor human rights record.
Chen made clear he believed his experience reflected broader abuses by officials who have been told to put "stability before all else" by authorities wary of unrest that could erode their grip on power.
"This issue of lawlessness may be the greatest challenge facing the new leaders who will be installed this autumn by the 18th National Congress of the Chinese Communist Party," wrote Chen.
"Indeed, China's political stability may depend on its ability to develop the rule of law in a system where it barely exists," he added. "China stands at a critical juncture. I hope its new leaders will use this opportunity wisely."
Chen's comments highlighted how China's expansion of "stability preservation" and domestic security powers over the past decade has created a contentious legacy for the next party leadership, almost sure to be headed by current Vice President Xi Jinping.
The party's top domestic security official, Zhou Yongkang, also suffered a blow to his authority over a scandal around Bo Xilai, the sacked chief of Chongqing in southwest China. Zhou was widely seen as staying too close to Bo for too long.
Chen wrote that although China's legislation can appear on paper to offer citizens robust protection, in practice the police and officials can ride roughshod over the law.
He cited his own experience since 2005: extra-judicial detention in his home village in Shandong and jailing on charges that Chen and his supporters said were concocted to silence him.
"On what legal basis, following my release from prison in 2010, did they turn our home into another, equally harsh, prison?" Chen added.
Chen accused Shandong officials in 2005 of forcing women to have late-term abortions and sterilizations to comply with China's strict family-planning policies. Officials moved against him with charges of whipping up a crowd that disrupted traffic and damaged property - charges he adamantly rejected.
Chen arrived in New York with his wife and two children on May 19 after China let him leave a Beijing hospital to end a diplomatic rift with the United States.
But he has continued to voice concern about relatives in Shandong, especially his nephew Chen Kegui, who he said faced reprisals from officials.
Chen Kegui was charged with "intentional homicide" and accused of using knives to fend off local officials who burst into his home the day after they discovered his uncle had escaped house arrest.
Reporting by Chris Buckley; Editing by Nick Macfie