Thu, Nov 02, 2006 - Page 1 News List

PRC county court overturns blind activist's sentence

AFP , BEIJING

A blind Chinese activist jailed for more than four years after exposing government abuses of the one-child policy has unexpectedly won an appeal, his lawyer and wife said yesterday.

A court in east China this week overturned a sentence delivered in August against Chen Guangcheng (陳光誠), a blind, self-taught lawyer, although the case has been returned to a lower court for retrial, said his lawyer, Li Jinsong (李勁松).

"It was found that there have been serious violations in the legal procedures," Li said, citing the verdict of the Yinan County court in Shandong Province.

Li described the overturning of the guilty verdict as the "best possible outcome" that could be expected. "The original decision was completely wrong," he said.

Chen's wife welcomed the news with cautious optimism, noting that the constant surveillance on her over the past year had still not eased.

"I am very, very happy, whatever the outcome is going to be ... I don't know whether it will be a fair and transparent retrial, but at least we have another chance," Yuan Weijing (袁偉靜) said in a phone interview.

Yuan said she was still closely guarded by several agents around the clock and was barred from traveling to see her oldest child, who is living with her mother.

Chen's relatives, lawyers and supporters have been harassed and sometimes beaten up over the past year when they tried to visit him.

Chen ran into trouble with authorities in Shandong's Linyi City last year after accusing them of forcing thousands of women to be sterilized and have abortions as late as eight months into their pregnancies.

In August, the Yinan County court sentenced 34-year-old Chen to four years and three months in jail on charges of "willfully damaging property and organizing a mob to disturb traffic."

The charges came after villagers protesting police abuse of Chen clashed with authorities in February and March.

But rights groups say the charges were laid to silence and punish Chen for exposing violations of the one-child policy.

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