A blind activist has been jailed in China
A blind activist who exposed a campaign by Chinese officials to force women to have abortions was jailed for more than four years yesterday in one of the country's most controversial human rights cases since the Tiananmen Square massacre.
The case against Chen Guangcheng, a peasant who became known as the "barefoot lawyer of Linyi" for his self-taught legal activism, had been described by human rights groups, Chinese dissidents and even the country's established lawyers as absurd. He had been beaten, seized in Beijing by police from his home region, and held under house arrest even though the central government had signalled that his allegations merited investigation.
After a brief trial last Friday, in which he was accused of criminal damage and obstructing traffic, a verdict was delivered yesterday. "The local government has behaved like a total mafia with him," Hu Jia, one of China's most vocal dissidents, told The Daily Telegraph.
"His trial was completely illegal from the beginning."
Chen, 35, taught himself law to fight against discrimination, eventually taking up the cases of local disabled people and dispossessed farmers.
Last year, he went public on what he said was an aggressive campaign by officials in Linyi county, eastern China, to rectify a local birth-rate that breached quotas under the one-child policy by forcing women into abortions and sterilisations. Although women can be punished for disobeying the policy by fines, forced abortion is supposed to have been outlawed.
The national government stepped in and announced an investigation but the local authorities and police took instant action against Chen. Police followed him to Beijing, bundled him into a car and returned him to Shandong, where he was kept under house arrest.
Lawyers from Beijing who visited him were attacked, as were local villagers who turned up to defend him. After a stand-off where he was not allowed out of his house for several months, one such incident was used as a pretext to arrest him.
His case was taken up by human rights groups abroad, while Time magazine named him as one of the world's 100 most influential people.
As a mark of the international attention his case had won, American lawyers offered advice, while three of China's best-known legal figures, including Xu Zhiyong, a Beijing university professor, agreed to act for his defence. But the day before the trial, they too were arrested.
"This is completely unreasonable and against the law," Mr Xu said after the verdict was announced. "This definitely affects China's image and its claims to be a country ruled by law."
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