A Chinese human rights lawyer who exposed a violent campaign of forced abortions and sterilisations by family planning officials was sentenced to four years in jail yesterday on what his supporters insist are trumped-up charges of damaging property and organising a mob to disrupt traffic during a protest.
Chen Guangcheng, 35, went on trial in Yinan county court last Friday after a year of detention but lawyers appointed by him were not allowed to attend the trial and his supporters say instead two lawyers were picked who did nothing to defend Chen's case, merely repeating the words "no objection".
Chen's supporters say he was on trial for publishing a report last year exposing the plight of women in his home town in eastern Shandong province and believe the case makes a mockery of any attempt to impose the rule of law in China. Domestic and foreign civil rights campaigners have repeatedly called for Chen's release and for an investigation into claims that he was tortured in custody.
Details in the official version of the trial as reported by the official Xinhua news agency were sketchy. Chen was convicted of damaging property and "organising a mob to disturb traffic", Xinhua reported, citing a court document which said Chen was "upset with workers who were sent to carry out poverty-relief programmes" in his village.
"He rushed to the office of the village committee and damaged doors and windows," it said. In the official version, Chen's rights were completely protected, and his two lawyers expressed their views in full.
When it came out last year, Chen's report was political dynamite. It revealed that family planning officials in Linyi, an area of around 10 million people, were coercing people into having late-term abortions or sterilisations and using other violent methods to enforce the "one-child policy". These methods are illegal but local bureaucrats carry them out regardless as they are worried they will be punished for not meeting targets.
The report contained details about how tens of thousands of people with an illegal number of children, ineligible to have more, were coerced into late-term abortions. Some women were forced to have abortions eight months into their pregnancies. The central government launched an investigation, and a small number of officials were punished.
The report's publication brought international renown for the handsome, media-friendly Chen, who went blind after a fever as a child. His disability meant he could not graduate and his knowledge of the law is self-taught. Time magazine put him on its list of "2006's Top 100 people who shape our world".
The publicity also made the "blind, barefoot lawyer" a marked man as far as the local powers-that-be were concerned and he was taken in to custody last August. Since then, he and his family have been beaten, threatened and confined to their house by thugs hired by the local government, according to his wife, Yuan Weijing.
Chen's defence lawyer, Xu Zhiyong, said he and Chen's family had received no notification about the sentence of four years and three months, even though the courts are legally required to give such notice.
Mr Xu and two other lawyers were arrested and held on theft charges last week while they were working on Chen's case and were denied access to evidence.
Chen was supposed to go on trial in July, but it was cancelled at the last minute and supporters of Chen clashed with police.Reuse content