September 2, 2006

Blind Chinese activist appeals “unlawful” sentence

By Chris Buckley

BEIJING (Reuters) - A blind Chinese human rights activist
whose jailing last month sparked an international outcry has
filed an appeal, asserting authorities stifled his defense and
apparently coerced witnesses into testifying against him.

Chen Guangcheng attracted world attention last year after
issuing a report that said officials in east China's Shandong
province had enforced a brutal population control drive.

On August 24, Chen was sentenced by Yinan County court in
Shandong to over 4 years' jail for damaging property and
obstructing traffic in a February protest. His family and
lawyers maintain the charges were trumped up to silence him.

In an appeal sent to the Yinan court on Friday and issued
to reporters on Sunday, Chen said authorities beat and detained
his lawyers and used witnesses who were probably tortured.

"This trial was clearly an unlawful one in flagrant
violation of the basic principles of criminal legal procedure,"
the appeal states.

"The appellant has reason to believe that the so-called
confessions provided by the prosecution were the product of
coercion," it adds.

Chen's lawyer, Li Jinsong, told Reuters no date has been
set for a new hearing.

Before Chen's trial, his attorneys were detained on charges
of theft and the court appointed two stand-in lawyers whom Chen
refused to accept.

Chinese activists said the unexpectedly heavy sentence
against Chen showed officials are clamping down on "rights
defenders" -- a network of lawyers and activists seeking to
expand freedoms through litigation and Internet-driven

The U.S. State Department has condemned Chen's jailing on
"questionable charges" and called on Beijing to release him.

Chen, who has been blind since early childhood and educated
himself in law, called on China's leaders to respect human
rights and blamed vengeful local officials.

"Those who are most averse to the words freedom and
democracy are the local overlords of grassroots law enforcement
who are laws unto themselves, bringing calamity to the
country," Chen said in his appeal.