Trial Of China Activist Delayed, Supporters Harassed

July 20, 2006 12:00 am Last Updated: July 20, 2006 12:00 am

BEIJING – The trial of a blind Chinese legal activist who exposed forced abortions and sterilisations has been delayed because the prosecution lacked sufficient evidence, his lawyer said on Thursday.

Outside the courthouse in the eastern province of Shandong, some 40-50 supporters of Chen Guangcheng scuffled with people they described as thugs and plainclothes police.

Chen faces charges of destroying public property and disrupting traffic, accusations supporters say are a pretext to persecute him for drawing international attention to coercive family-planning measures under China's one-child policy.

He was formally arrested and charged in June, but has been in detention or under house arrest since last September.

“There definitely won't be a trial today,” Chen's lawyer, Li Jinsong, told Reuters by telephone.

Lack Of Evidence

The prosecution had requested the delay because it lacked evidence, Li said, adding he thought it was a positive sign that bolstered the defence's view that the charges were flimsy.

“This shows the Yinan county prosecuting court already realises the evidence in the existing suit against Chen Guangcheng … is not enough and needs supplementing,” Li said.

But activists from Beijing, villagers and blind people who assembled outside the courthouse in a show of support said they were hit and shoved by people in plainclothes who smashed their cameras and video recorders and stoned cars.

Police arrived only after 45 minutes, said Zhao Xin, one of the activists, who added that the local villagers among them had recognised some of those he described as “hooligans” and “mafia thugs” as local police.

The scuffle at the courthouse was the latest in a pattern of harassment of Chen's supporters.

Lawyers and activists seeking his release were forced to cancel a news conference in June under pressure from authorities. Later that month, lawyers who tried to visit Chen and his family were roughed up and barred from entering his village.

Li, Chen's chief lawyer, said he managed to meet with Chen for about an hour on Wednesday to discuss witness testimony.

“His health and his mental state are both OK,” Li said.

New York-based Human Rights Watch said Chen's detention was arbitrary and he had been subject to physical abuse by police.

“When Chen tried to make proper use of China's legal system, the response wasn't due process,” Sophie Richardson, deputy director of the watchdog's Asia division, said in a statement. “His case is a textbook example of how little the rule of law really means in China.”