The nephew of blind activist Chen Guangcheng (陳光誠) has been denied his family’s choice of lawyers to defend a charge of “intentional homicide” in what one observer said was an attempt to manipulate a trial that has focused world attention on China’s human rights.
The decision by police in Yinan in northeastern Shandong province is the latest in a series of moves to deny Chen Kegui (陳克貴), legal representation and underscores the hardline stance taken against Chen Guangcheng’s family.
The activist’s escape from house arrest last month and subsequent refuge in the US embassy caused huge embarrassment for China and led to a diplomatic crisis in Sino-US relations.
The ruling Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has always been wary of lawyers, who officials suspect could challenge its power through their advocacy of the rule of law. Authorities have frequently sought to prevent lawyers from taking politically sensitive cases by suspending their licenses or threatening them.
Chen Kegui, in his early 30s, could face the death penalty if found guilty of 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 house arrest.
Police told Ding Xikui (丁錫奎), one of his team of lawyers, that Chen Kegui had been appointed two lawyers from the Yinan government-run legal aid center, Ding said by telephone from Shandong.
“They told us: ‘According to Chinese law, a criminal suspect can only be commissioned two lawyers. Two have been assigned to him, so both of you can’t be his lawyers,’” said Ding, who represented jailed Nobel Laureate Liu Xiaobo (劉曉波), at his 2009 subversion trial.
Police and the legal aid center in Yinan were not immediately available for comment.
“This shows that the authorities in Linyi and the forces behind it are attempting to manipulate the case behind the scenes,” said Jiang Tianyong (江天勇), one of the members of the legal team of more than a dozen lawyers who have volunteered to defend Chen Kegui.
“Chen Kegui will not be able to get a real defense, and the outside world will not be able to know the progress of the case,” he said.
“In this way, the fate of Chen Kegui will entirely be up to the authorities,” Jiang said.
Another of Chen Kegui’s lawyers, Si Weijiang (斯偉江), said he called the Yinan legal aid center, which told him “they have no idea about the case.”
In recent weeks, Chinese authorities have thwarted plans by other lawyers to meet Chen Kegui and warned others not to get involved, according to lawyer Liu Weiguo (劉衛國).
No family member or lawyer has been allowed to see Chen Kegui, making the lawyers feel “powerless,” Si said.
Chen Guangcheng said yesterday that authorities in Shandong had threatened his elder brother, Chen Guangfu (陳光福), saying that they would increase Chen Kegui’s sentence if Chen Guangfu accepts media interviews.
In a video interview with Hong Kong online magazine iSun Affairs on Wednesday, Chen Guangfu described his torture by plainclothes men after Chen Guangcheng’s escape.
The US has appealed to China to let Chen Guangcheng travel to the US to study. He said he applied for a passport on Wednesday and that he should get a reply within 15 days.
Chen Guangcheng earlier said that his nephew was the victim of vengeance by officials incensed at the blind dissident’s escape.