Sat, Aug 19, 2006 - Page 1 News List

Activist's trial finishes in disarray after lawyers held

AGENCIES , BEIJING

The trial of a blind Chinese rights activist ended in disarray yesterday with his main attorney detained until the hearing ended and the defendant rejecting two officially appointed stand-in lawyers.

The trial of Chen Guangcheng (陳光誠), who was arrested after recording complaints by villagers of forced abortions, ended after about two hours without a verdict, according to his lawyer Zhang Lihui (張立輝).

Zhang didn't attend the proceeding in a court in eastern China but said Chen's two brothers told him what happened. Chen's wife was also barred from attending.

Chen faced charges of illegal assembly and intent to damage public property, which his supporters say were fabricated in retaliation for his activism. He could be sentenced to a maximum of five years in jail.

"This trial was unjust and illegal," Zhang said. "We refused to go in protest."

Chen refused to accept two court-appointed lawyers or to enter a plea, Zhang said. He said Chen was sick and threw up during the trial but he didn't know what was wrong with him.

Chen's case is notable for the support he has received from a wide array of activists and the scope of harassment that local authorities are accused of conducting against him and his family, including beatings and confinement in their home.

Several activists in Beijing say they were put under house arrest in an apparent effort to prevent them from attending Chen's trial in Shandong Province's Yinan County.

Zhang, a member of a five-member legal team that traveled from Beijing to help Chen, said he was denied access to him and was not permitted to examine a videotape and other evidence.

Zhang said he and two other members of Chen's legal team were detained Thursday and accused of stealing a wallet. Zhang and lawyer Li Fangping (李方平) were released after two hours.

A third team member, Xu Zhiyong (許志永), a law professor who has taught at Yale University, said he was beaten by five unidentified men before being taken by police.

"It seems clear to me that the sole purpose of taking me in was to make sure I couldn't represent Chen in court," Xu said in a telephone call.

Xu said he spent 22 hours in police custody, was not charged and then was released 30 minutes after Chen's trial finished.

"These things they've been doing show that this place is totally lawless," he said. "We don't know what to do next."

Other legal scholars in China and abroad criticized the detention of Chen's lawyers as an attempt to interfere in his trial.

Chen, who was blinded by a fever in infancy, taught himself law in order to fight discrimination against himself and handicapped farmers. Last year, he started gathering accounts of forced late-term abortions and sterilizations to enforce official birth limits in Linyi County.

The National Population and Family Planning Commission said last September that Linyi officials had been fired or detained for family planning abuses.

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