Appeals Court Overturns Blind Chinese Activists Guilty Verdict

Chen Guangcheng at work in Yinan county before his arrest. Photo: RFA

HONG KONG-An appeals court in the eastern Chinese province of Shandong has overturned the guilty verdict against leading rights activist Chen Guangcheng, sending the case back to the county-level court for a retrial.

"The procedure used by the lower court to assign [Chen's] court-appointed defense attorneys was not consistent with the requirements of the law and therefore had an impact on the trial," a judge at the Linyi Intermediate People's Court told RFA's Mandarin service.

"That’s why the case was sent back for a retrial," said the appeal judge, who declined to give his name.

Meanwhile, a judge surnamed Sheng at the Yinan People's County Court, the court of first instance, said the decision had only just arrived with them, and that details had yet to be decided.

Asked when the retrial would take place, Judge Sheng said: "That is unclear."

For them to do that means that the original decision was completely in error and illegal. We can be sure of this. The original verdict has no effect any more. It is obsolete.

She declined to give further details.

Chen, a social activist who blew the whistle on official abuses under China's one-child policy, was sentenced by the Yinan County People's Court on Aug. 24 to four years and three months' imprisonment for "willfully damaging property and organizing a mob to disturb traffic."

Implied fault admitted

Lawyers and relatives called the trial an illegal and retaliatory move by local officials angry at Chen's damning expose of their actions.

"The decision did two things," Chen's lawyer Li Jingsong said. "One was to overturn the guilty verdict against Chen handed down by the Yinan County Court. The second was to require that the Yinan court carry out a retrial."

"For them to do that means that the original decision was completely in error and illegal. We can be sure of this. The original verdict has no effect any more. It is obsolete," Li said. "And an appeals court will never order a retrial lightly, without a very good reason, especially not in a case that has the sort of international impact that this one has."

"From the point of view of the defense, this is the best possible result."

Chen's wife Yuan Weijing welcomed the news.

"When I heard the news I was very happy because at the very least it means that Chen will get another opportunity to speak on his own behalf. And it shows that there was a problem with the initial verdict."

But she said she doubted the retrial would be conducted fairly.

Small hope of fair retrial

"Even now I am under surveillance," Yuan said. "And I'm not sure about the strongest witnesses for the defense; whether they will come out and testify. Especially the ones who had forced confessions wrung out of them. I am afraid that they have been too intimidated to come out and speak."

Chen's groundbreaking work as a self-trained legal advocate on behalf of women suffering forced abortions and other abuses at the hands of Yinan county family planning officials has earned him praise among socially aware netizens in China.

But it has also drawn him years of house arrest, surveillance, beatings, and harassment by local officials and the unidentified men they hire as heavies.

Li said the Linyi Intermediate People's Court's decision wasn't just a victory for Chen but also for all those struggling for civil rights and the rule of law in China.

"It's a victory for all those people who are continuing to fight to protect the rule of law and their rights in the face of persecution by corrupt officials."

Beijing-based AIDS activist Hu Jia said he believed neither court would have had much of a say in the handling of Chen's case.

"The whole thing has been manipulated by the Party judicial committees at the different levels of government concerned with the case and the Ministry of Public Security," he said.

"But this is the first time that there was an admission of wrongdoing by the authorities in Chen’s case. It’s a constructive step. This change of attitude is the result of international media attention to the case," Hu added.

The New York-based Human Rights in China said in a recent report that China's legal system was being undermined by continual pressures on lawyers, especially those representing clients in sensitive cases involving allegations of official wrongdoing.

Original reporting in Mandarin by Ding Xiao. RFA Mandarin service director: Jennifer Chou. Translated and written for the Web in English by Luisetta Mudie. Edited by Sarah Jackson-Han.


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