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Blind dissident sent to jail by China in ‘mockery of a trial’

Posted by Author on December 2, 2006

Times Online, UK, December 02, 2006-

China displayed yesterday its determination not to allow criticism from rights groups or foreign governments to affect its justice system when separate courts upheld the convictions, of a blind activist and a journalist, that have been condemned at home and abroad.

A court in the eastern province of Shandong re-sentenced Chen Guangcheng to four years and three months on charges of damaging public property and disrupting social order. The self-taught lawyer, who had documented cases of forced abortions and sterilisations, was appearing after an appeal court had ordered that his case be retried.


In Beijing the High Court took five minutes to reject an appeal by Zhao Yan, a researcher for The New York Times, against a sentence of three years in prison for fraud. In a rare decision for a justice system in which more than 95 per cent of trials result in a guilty verdict, a court had acquitted Mr Zhao earlier of the more serious charge of revealing state secrets, which could have led to a ten-year prison term.

Mr Chen’s case has drawn particular attention. His sentence was considered unusually heavy, especially since he was already under house arrest at the time the offences were committed. His lawyer called the verdict a tragedy for Chinese justice and said that he had been unable to call a key witness, who was apparently kidnapped on the eve of the trial.

International rights groups said that both men were victims of a campaign by Beijing’s Communist rulers to silence and intimidate dissenters.

Judges at the Yinan County Court in Shandong province took nearly an hour to read their verdict that upheld their earlier sentence on Mr Chen. Security was tight around the court, with dozens of police inside and outside, and manning a cordon around the building to prevent the entry of members of the public.

His brother, Chen Guangfu, was allowed to attend the session and he described the accused as impassive during the sentencing. “But when they asked him to place his fingerprint on the verdict, I heard him say, ‘I will appeal’.” Mr Chen, who was blinded in infancy and taught himself law to fight discrimination against the handicapped, was convicted in August by the same court. Last month an intermediate court , where Mr Chen, 34, had filed an appeal, overturned the sentence.

Chen Guangfu said: “This is a mockery. It is shameful.” At the ten-hour retrial on Monday, no witnesses or evidence were presented from the defence, Chen’s lawyer, Li Fangping, told The Times. “In court we had the upper hand and the other side made no effective rebuttal. At first we hoped that this would be a fair trial. However, the court clung obstinately to its evil course.”

The lawyer said that he was unable to present crucial witnesses after one was kidnapped on the eve of the trial and two others disappeared. He said: “This is a tragedy for China’s legal system . . . the outcome shows that they were just going through the motions.” For example, at the time of the disturbance last August when villagers blocked a road in Mr Chen’s hometown for three hours, the activist was surrounded by 26 men who had been watching him and keeping him under effective house arrest for months.

Mr Chen’s supporters said that officials fabricated the charges against him in retaliation after he documented complaints that officials who were trying to implement birth-control regulations had forced villagers to undergo late-term abortions and sterilisations. Beijing said later that it had carried out its own investigation and punished local officials after finding violations of the family planning policy.

Mr Chen’s wife, Yuan Weijin, who was taken away days before the second trial but later released, said that she had seen him this week and described him as being in high spirits.

When she asked her vegetarian husband about the food in prison, he replied jokingly: “Don’t worry. You can’t eat meat here even if you want to.” Another suspect had left Mr Chen all his clothes to keep him warm when he was released and the activist wore his friend’s overcoat to court. She said: “I am very disappointed today. This shows how powerful are the forces of evil.”

Rough justice

  • Chen Guangcheng acted as a lawyer for women in China’s Shangdong province, helping them to sue government officials for conducting a campaign of forced sterilisations and abortions
  • Time magazine named him as one of its 100 People Who Shape the World
  • After his conviction in August, Amnesty International said: “The charges against Chen were politically motivated and the trial was grossly unfair. Chen’s lawyers were obstructed from collecting evidence to representing him in court”
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