A Chinese court Friday sentenced the nephew of blind legal activist Chen Guangcheng to more than three years imprisonment for assault, after a four-hour trial from which lawyers for the defendant were barred.
Chen Kegui was jailed for having injured officials who burst into his house one night last April, apparently looking for his uncle, who had slipped out of his home nearby after 19 months of detention. Chen senior later sought refuge in the US Embassy in Beijing.
Mr. Chen’s parents were given only four hours’ notice of the trial and also barred from entering the courtroom.
“I tried to get into the court, but a lot of plainclothes policemen blocked my way and told me to wait outside,” says Chen Guangfu, the defendant’s father, in a phone interview.
Chen Kegui had said before he was arrested that he had used a kitchen knife to defend himself against the men who had broken into his house and who were beating him up. He had initially been charged with “intentional homicide,” even though nobody had died in the incident.
“Kegui did not do anything wrong,” his mother said in video testimony posted on Friday to one of Chen Kegui’s lawyer’s blog. “If Kegui had not fought back that night he would have been beaten to death. I might have been killed as well.”
Chen Kegui had been held incommunicado for more than six months, and the lawyers whom his wife had retained were forbidden by the court to take the case. Instead, Chen Kegui was represented in court Friday by a state-appointed lawyer, Wang Haijun.
“He was appointed by the government so he will work for the government, not for us,” Chen Kegui’s father said. “The sentence is too heavy, because legitimate self-defense should not be punished at all,” he added.
Chen Kegui’s lawyer apparently did not attempt to plead self-defense, according to an uncle, Chen Guangxin, who was present in court and who spoke to Chen Guangfu after the trial, breaking the news that his son had been sentenced to three years and three months in jail.
“I’m afraid the fact that my brother went to America has made this case harder for my son,” Chen Guangfu says. “He was charged with quite a common offense, intentional infliction of injury, but his case has dragged on for months. They are taking revenge on us.”
His son had told the court he would not appeal the sentence, says Chen Guangfu, citing his brother who had witnessed the trial, but he planned to consult lawyers “to see if we could still appeal even if Chen Kegui gives up.”
Chen Guangcheng, a self-taught lawyer, first ran into trouble for exposing cases of forced abortion in his home province of Shandong. In 2006, he was jailed for four years for “disrupting traffic and damaging property.” And after his release, he was illegally confined to his home in the village of Dongshigu by thugs and plainclothes policemen.
After escaping from his captors last April, Chen Guangcheng made his way to the US embassy, and is now studying at New York University. He has said since his arrival there that he feared the Chinese authorities would seek retribution against his relatives in China, including Chen Kegui.