A group of lawyers in China has challenged a ruling banning them from meeting with blind Chinese dissident Chen Guangcheng's nephew, who is facing trial for "intentional homicide" in the wake of his uncle's daring escape from house arrest.
In a letter addressed to the police chief of the Yinan county public security bureau in the eastern province of Shandong, the lawyers hit out at police interference in their efforts to defend Chen Kegui.
"We believe your bureau’s conduct violates the Criminal Procedural Law of the People’s Republic of China and other administrative and legal regulations," said the official letter, which was signed by Beijing public interest lawyer Ding Xikui and Shanghai-based lawyer Si Weijiang.
"[It] seriously violates the legal rights of Chen Kegui and lawyers’ lawful rights to carry out their profession," said the letter, which followed unsuccessful attempts last week by the legal team appointed by Chen's wife, Liu Fang, to meet with their client.
Ding confirmed to RFA's Cantonese service on Tuesday that he and Si had been denied permission to visit Chen Kegui at the Yinan county detention center, where he is currently being held.
"They said they have already found him legal assistance, and they wouldn't let us see him," Ding said. "But their reasoning doesn't stand up, because we have the right to visit him."
"According to the spirit of the law, the defendant should be able to hire his own lawyers ... legal aid attorneys are paid by the taxpayer, and here, a citizen is willing to hire his own."
"There is no need for the state to pay his legal expenses," Ding added.
The China Human Rights Defenders (CHRD) group said in a statement that police obstruction was "tantamount to denying Chen Kegui access to counsel."
"To date, Chen Kegui has not been permitted to meet with any lawyer of his own choosing," the group said in an emailed statement on Tuesday.
Ding's request to meet Chen in person to verify police claims that he had already been allocated legal aid lawyers was rejected because it "did not accord with legal regulations," CHRD said.
Citing Article 23 of China’s Legal Aid Regulations, Ding wrote in the letter that he and Si are Chen Kegui’s lawful attorneys, having been authorized by Chen’s wife to represent her husband, and that the government-appointed legal aid lawyers should stop providing legal assistance to Chen Kegui.
Nanjing-based activist He Peirong, who spearheaded the online campaign to raise awareness of Chen's plight during his 20 months of house arrest and who helped him flee to Beijing, said she was concerned that the activist's departure for the U.S., where he settled in as a visiting scholar at New York University this week, wouldn't spell the end of trouble for his supporters.
"I think they will start to go after people in future," said He, who is currently living without obvious surveillance at her home. "We are all waiting because we don't know what's going to happen."
But He said she had no regrets about helping the activist, who acted as legal advocate for families threatened with forced abortion and sterilization at the hands of local family planning officials.
"I have never felt regret over this," she said, adding that Chen had been very circumspect over the details of his daring escape in the hope of protecting his allies from retribution at the hands of the authorities.
Reported by Grace Kei Lai-see for RFA's Cantonese service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.