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Chinese activist's nephew held incommunicado

(Human Rights Watch/IFEX) - New York, October 16, 2012 - The municipal authorities responsible for numerous violations of the rights of the prominent blind activist Chen Guangcheng are violating the rights of his nephew, Chen Kegui, by denying him an independent lawyer and holding him incommunicado, said Human Rights Watch today.

On October 12, 2012, Chen's family learned that the Yinan County Public Security Bureau in Shandong province had transferred Chen Kegui's case to the state prosecution, paving the way for his indictment under the charge "intentional infliction of injury."

Chen Kegui has been held by police since late April 2012 for injuring several officials who broke into his family home in the middle of the night days after his uncle made a daring escape from illegal confinement in a house located in the same village.

"Local authorities are treating Chen Kegui with the same arbitrariness and disregard for the law that they did Chen Guangcheng," said Sophie Richardson, China Director at Human Rights Watch. "The central government, which pledged to investigate these officials for their abuse of Chen Guangcheng, should immediately intervene to protect Chen Kegui's rights."

In late April, Chen Guangcheng escaped from his home where he had been illegally confined for the previous 19 months. After his guards realized he had escaped, in the early morning hours of April 27, some 20 of them stormed the house of Chen's brother, located in the same village.

According to an account Chen Kegui gave before his arrest, he seized kitchen knives in self-defense when the men in plainclothes moved to apprehend him. Chen Kegui's mother said she saw the men beating her son and screaming, "Beat him to death!" before her son slashed at those who were beating him.

After the altercation, Chen Kegui called the police to turn himself in, but later fled and spent several days in hiding, during which time his mother was detained and charged with "harboring a criminal." Chen Kegui was ultimately apprehended and formally arrested on May 9. Police placed him at the Yinan County Detention Center in Shandong's Linyi Municipality, where he has remained incommunicado since.

On May 18, police denied lawyers appointed by Chen Kegui's family access to him, insisting that Kegui had already been provided with lawyers by the government-controlled legal aid center. Chen's father denounced the arrangement as "unacceptable" and expressed fears that his son was already being tortured in detention. The refusal to let family-appointed lawyers represent the defendant echoes the case of Chen Guangcheng himself, who in 2006 had also been appointed lawyers by the same legal aid center in his trial on charges of "damaging property" and "gathering crowds to disrupt traffic" in 2006. These lawyers proved unwilling to effectively defend him during his trial, and Chen Guangcheng was sentenced to four years and three months in prison.

According to Chinese law, the state prosecution must now decide within a maximum of a month and a half to decide whether to initiate prosecution, and can reject, amend the charges, or send back the case to the police for further investigation. While the charge of "intentional infliction of injury" (article 234 of the Criminal Law) might seem less serious than "intentional manslaughter," which is what the police initially announced, Chen Kegui and his family have always maintained that he had purely acted in self-defense.

"The fact that Chen Kegui has already been deprived of his right to choose his own lawyers does not bode well for the rest of the legal proceedings against him," said Richardson. "While it is legitimate for the judiciary to look into this case, it would be absurd if it does not take into account the long history of persecution and unlawful actions on the part of local authorities leading up to the incident."

In May 2012, during negotiations between the United States and Chinese governments over the fate of Chen Guangcheng, who sought refuge at the US Embassy in Beijing after his escape, Chinese state media reported that the local authorities in Linyi, Shandong province would be investigated for unlawfully confining Chen and his relatives. Chen later confirmed that an envoy from the central government has promised him an investigation. Yet, more than five months later, there has been no sign of such investigation. None of the local officials involved in the illegal house arrest have been removed from office. Restrictions on his family have eased since Chen left for the US, but the family is still monitored by the authorities.

Human Rights Watch urged the Chinese government to allow Chen Kegui access to his family and the freedom to choose his own lawyers, as well as to ensure that he is not tortured or mistreated. Should Chen's case move to the trial stage, the Shandong People's High Court should designate a court in another jurisdiction to conduct a fair and public trial since conditions for a fair trial cannot be found in Linyi Municipality due to the involvement of officials there in persecution Chen Guangcheng and his family.

"Chen Guangcheng's dramatic escape drew the world's attention to China's human rights violations and greatly embarrassed the government," said Richardson. "But instead of holding the local authorities to lawful behavior, the government seems to be tolerating their continuing abuse."

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