BEIJING (Reuters) - A court in eastern China sentenced the nephew of blind Chinese activist Chen Guangcheng to three years and three months in jail on Friday for intentional infliction of injury, in a case likely to refocus attention on China’s human rights and legal system.
Chen Kegui had been held incommunicado by police for over six months and was denied access to his choice of lawyers. Both his family and human rights advocates have called the case illegitimate.
Chen Kegui was initially charged with “intentional homicide” for using knives to fend off local officials who burst into his home on April 27, the day after they discovered his blind uncle had escaped from 19 months of harsh house arrest in eastern Shandong province and fled to the U.S. embassy in Beijing.
Police had downgraded the charge because they had no evidence to build a case of “intentional homicide” against him, Chen Guangcheng has said.
Chen Guangfu, Chen Kegui’s father, said the verdict meant China has no rule of law.
“This verdict is absolutely unjust. His behaviour was completely reasonable self defence. When it came out (the verdict), I lost hope in the law,” Chen Guangfu told Reuters by telephone
Chen said he was told his son would not appeal but he did not know why because he was not allowed in to witness the trial.
Court officials did not answer telephone calls seeking comment.
“It’s worse than we had expected,” veteran activist and family friend Hu Jia told Reuters.
“The court suddenly decided to hold the case with only a few hours notice. This is so there would not be time for supporters or media to go down there and gather at the court house.”
The Chen Kegui sentence underscores the pressure still being applied to his family months after his uncle sparked a diplomatic rift when he fled to the U.S. embassy and later left to study at New York University.
Ding Xikui, the family-appointed lawyer for Chen Kegui who has been unable to see his client or review the case materials, told Reuters he had only heard the trial was set to open hours beforehand when he was contacted by Chen Guangcheng in New York.
“After being entrusted as a lawyer by the family I have not been allowed to meet (Chen). This is terribly troublesome. This is illegal,” he said.
Chen Guangfu had filed a lawsuit against local police and officials for unlawfully barging into his house but it was rejected.
He said about 20 men led by a local official went to his home and beat his wife and son. Around this time his son took a kitchen knife and slashed three officials.
Chen Guangcheng’s escape from house arrest in April and subsequent refuge in the U.S. embassy was deeply embarrassing for China, and led to a serious diplomatic tussle between the two superpowers.
Chen had accused Shandong officials in 2005 of forcing women to have late-term abortions and sterilizations to comply with China’s strict family-planning policies.
After four years in jail on what he and his supporters say were trumped-up charges designed to end his activism, Chen was released in 2010 and put under house arrest in Shandong.
Additional reporting by Maxim Duncan, Editing by Jonathan Thatcher