China Upholds Jail Term for Blind Rights Activist

January 12, 2007 Updated: January 12, 2007

BEIJING—A Chinese court upheld a guilty verdict and jail term on Friday for a blind human rights activist who provided legal services for peasants, illustrating China's determination to rein in dissent.

The court in the eastern province of Shandong confirmed a lower court sentence of four years and three months for Chen Guangcheng on charges that critics say were concocted by officials angry at his exposure of forced late-term abortions.

“Chen was convicted of damaging public property and organising a mob to disrupt traffic and pressuring the government,” China's state-controlled media said.

Linyi Intermediate People's Court, which had ordered a re-hearing of the case after Chen's attorneys were barred from defending him during the first trial in Yinan in August, had now issued a final verdict, state media said.

The Yinan court held a retrial and allowed the lawyers Chen appointed to defend him in November but stuck to its earlier ruling. Chen subsequently appealed to the Linyi court.

Chen, 35, who has been blind since childhood, is known as a self-taught “barefoot lawyer” for providing legal advice to peasants who say they have been victimised by official abuses.

His wife, Yuan Weijing, said the court had yet to notify her of the final verdict but added that she had expected the result.

“I am really angry. It is just lawless here. They can make up whatever charges and put you behind bars,” Yuan said by telephone from her home village where she is being held under virtual house arrest.

She said that with the days her husband had already spent in formal custody since last June, Chen would have to serve until September 2010.

Repeated calls to the Linyi court went unanswered on Friday.

Chinese activists have said the heavy sentence shows officials are clamping down on “rights defenders”, a network of lawyers and activists seeking to expand freedoms through litigation and Internet-driven campaigns.

Hu Jia, a Beijing-based rights campaigner and Chen's friend, said he was “very disappointed” at the ruling and said the outlook was “grim” for fellow activists ahead of the 2008 Beijing Olympics.

“Resorting to high-handed measures to ensure stability of the rule goes against the Olympic spirits of freedom, justice and safeguarding human rights,” Hu said.

A court in Ningbo in the coastal province of Zhejiang held a closed-door trial on Friday of a Chinese dissident writer accused of incitement to subvert state power.

Li Hong was arrested in September for posting “subversive” articles on the Internet and a verdict was expected in about two weeks, his lawyer, Li Jianqiang, told Reuters.

Edited by The Epoch Times