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Blind Chinese Activist Gets 4 Years

Chen Guangcheng, shown last year as women describe how family planning officials seized relatives, has been under house arrest or in jail for a year.
Chen Guangcheng, shown last year as women describe how family planning officials seized relatives, has been under house arrest or in jail for a year. (By Philip P. Pan -- The Washington Post)

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By Maureen Fan
Washington Post Foreign Service
Friday, August 25, 2006

BEIJING, Aug. 25-- A blind rural activist who attracted international attention for exposing forced abortions and sterilizations in eastern China was sentenced to four years and three months in prison on charges that he damaged property and disrupted traffic, state media reported Thursday evening.

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Supporters of the activist, Chen Guangcheng, immediately denounced the verdict, which came less than a week after a closed-door trial at which he had been deprived of his defense team.

Chen, 34, originally faced five years in prison on the charges, which stem from an incident in his village in February. He received a far more severe sentence than others charged in connection with the case, his wife and lawyers said.

"I didn't expect they would punish him this severely," said Chen's wife, Yuan Weijing, who, like Chen's lawyers, learned of the verdict through news media. "The whole operation stinks and is illegal and under the table."

"I don't know what to do now," she said, her voice cracking. "I want to visit him, but I don't think they will allow me."

One of Chen's top defense attorneys, Xu Zhiyong, vowed to appeal. He and Chen's other attorneys were accused of theft and detained by police the night before the trial; Xu was released an hour after it concluded. Chen was represented, over his objections, by court-appointed lawyers whom he had never met.

His supporters say the charges were trumped up to retaliate against him for preparing a class action lawsuit that embarrassed local family planning officials last year. He took testimony from thousands of residents who said officials had raided the homes of families with two children and demanded that at least one parent be sterilized. They also said authorities had forced women pregnant with a third child to have abortions.

Chen has been under house arrest or in jail for a year. His trial has brought international condemnation of China's legal system and galvanized human rights lawyers, who say they are feeling a sharp upturn in official pressure.

"Authorities always control us human rights lawyers, but it has been tighter in the last two months," said Teng Biao, a Chen supporter and a lecturer at the China University of Political Science and Law.

Luo Gan, the Politburo member responsible for internal security in China, warned this summer against the destabilizing influence of rights lawyers and activists.

In an issue of a Communist Party journal, Luo called for the adoption of "vigorous measures to effectively prevent hostile forces and people with ulterior motives from exploiting conflicts." He said some Chinese had engaged in "sabotage under the disguise of 'rights protection.' "

Last week, Gao Zhisheng, a well-known human rights lawyer who has lobbied for Chen's release, was abruptly taken from his sister's home by a group of men with no identification, no warrants and no legal documents. Gao, 42, is being detained for unspecified "criminal activities," the official New China News Agency later reported.

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