Fri, Nov 17, 2006 - Page 4 News List

Chinese officials trying to prejudice rights retrial

POLICE HARASSMENT Relatives and supporters of a rights activist-lawyer say they fear the worst as the authorities continue to exert pressure on witnesses

AFP , BEIJING

Authorities in eastern China are intimidating witnesses and withholding evidence to prejudice the retrial next week of a high-profile blind Chinese activist, his wife and lawyer said yesterday.

Chen Guangcheng (陳光誠) last month unexpectedly won an appeal of his August conviction in Shandong Province on charges of inciting the public in a case that drew international attention, and his case was sent back for retrial.

Chen was originally sentenced to four years and three months in jail for inciting the public after his supporters staged a protest.

Chinese and international rights activists say he was only charged because he had angered authorities in Linyi City, Shandong by exposing their forced abortions and other abuses carried out to implement the one-child policy.

Chen's wife Yuan Weijing (袁偉靜) said by phone yesterday that she feared Chen would be reconvicted because the local authorities continued to put obstacles in the way of a fair trial.

"I'm worried because evidence and witnesses in his favor might not be allowed in court," said Yuan, who was notified by court officials yesterday morning that Chen's retrial date had been set for Monday.

"Local officials are telling everybody not to tell the truth for Chen or they will be punished. They are very scared so they don't want to say anything," she said.

Chen, a 34-year-old self-taught lawyer, had accused Linyi City officials of forcing thousands of women to be sterilized and have abortions as late as eight months into their pregnancies in the name of the one-child policy.

He was convicted of "property damage and organizing a mob to disturb traffic" after local residents protesting police abuse of Chen allegedly clashed with authorities in February and March.

The county court overturned Chen's verdict late last month after it found "there had been serious violations in the legal procedures," his lawyer, Li Jinsong (李勁松), said at the time.

Li said yesterday that local authorities continued to hamper Chen's defense by refusing to allow access to video evidence that favors him and by hindering friendly witnesses.

Calls to the court went unanswered yesterday.

Chen has remained "relaxed" through it all, Li said.

Chen's case triggered international condemnation of China's legal system, including from the US government, which called it an example of the trampling of human rights.

His prolonged detention was widely reported in overseas media. Time magazine this year named him one of the world's 100 most influential people.

Legal scholar Teng Biao (滕彪), who had been helping Chen's case, said this month he believed the successful appeal had more to do with international pressure than with any improvements in China's legal procedures.

Chen's relatives, lawyers and supporters have been repeatedly harassed and even beaten up when they have tried to visit him.

Yuan said she continued to be followed by local security personnel and plainclothes "hooligans" hired by police.

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