BEIJING — Chen Kegui, the nephew of blind legal activist Chen Guangcheng, was sentenced Friday to 39 months in prison for injuring government officials who stormed into his home while searching for his uncle, who had fled house arrest.
The Obama administration swiftly condemned the sentence, calling it the result of a “deeply flawed legal process” that lacked basic guarantees of due process.
“He was convicted in a summary trial in which he was not fully represented by legal counsel of his choosing,” State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said.
Hu Jia, an activist friend of Chen Guangcheng’s, who reported the conviction and sentencing on his Twitter account, said by telephone that he had spoken with a Chen relative allowed inside the courtroom in Linyi city, in eastern Shandong province. The relative told him that Chen Kegui had said he would not appeal and that he would pay compensation to the official who was most badly injured in the melee. Hu said that those statements, if accurate, suggest that Chen might feel like “a hostage” of Shandong officials.
“What Chen Kegui said in court is so surprising,” Hu said. “I don’t think a normal person would say he wouldn’t appeal. He must be brainwashed or be under big pressure.”
Chen’s father, Chen Guangfu, the brother of the blind activist, was notified late Friday morning that his son’s trial would begin at 2 p.m. He was not allowed into the courtroom during the proceedings and waited outside, under the eye of plainclothes policemen. Family members were not permitted to hire a lawyer for Chen Kegui, who was represented at the trial by a government-appointed attorney.
“My son is innocent. Three years and three months is too heavy for him,” the elder Chen said. “This is the revenge of the government on Chen Guangcheng. . . . Chen Kegui has replaced Chen Guangcheng to serve this sentence.”
Chen Guangcheng — who escaped house arrest in April, took refuge at the U.S. Embassy in Beijing and was later given safe passage to travel to the United States to study — has long said that he feared that his relatives would face government reprisals.
How Chen Guangcheng’s relatives fared back in Shandong province has been seen as a test of whether the Beijing government would honor its verbal commitment to Chen to investigate his years of illegal home imprisonment and to protect his family from the vengeance of local officials.
Chen Kegui, who is 33, was seen as the most likely target of such revenge because he used a kitchen knife to try to ward off the men who burst into his home at midnight last April 26. It turned out that the men were local officials searching for Chen Guangcheng. One of those stabbed was Zhang Jian, the chief of Shuanghou town.
“Chen Kegui is a hostage in the hands of the government to control Chen Guangcheng,” Hu said. “This is their revenge.”
Hu pointed out that Zhang Gaoli, a former Communist Party secretary in Shandong province, was elevated to the powerful Politburo Standing Committee during the recently concluded 18th Party Congress.
It was during Zhang’s reign as the party boss in Shandong that the province embarked on its coercive family-planning policy of forced abortions, Hu said. Chen Guangcheng organized poor citizens to oppose the policy and was jailed as a result.
Zhang “must remember Chen Guangcheng very well,” Hu said. “Since Zhang Gaoli has entered the core of power, the Shandong government is certain to continue their old ways. They won’t change in the future.”
Chinese authorities had assured Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton that Chen’s family would not be targeted in retaliation.
“We urged them all along not to exact further retribution,” Nuland said Friday. “Their response was that any further issues would be handled in accordance with Chinese law. Our concern is that this case did not meet that standard, nor did it meet the standard of international law.”
Chen Kegui has been in jail since April. He was initially arrested for attempted murder, but in October the charge was reduced to intentional injury. Also, in June, one of the men who barged into the Chen family house, Zhao Weichen, was detained for five days and ordered to pay the Chen family 350 yuan, about $56, for damaging a TV set during the raid.
Chen Guangfu said before his son’s trial that he feared Chen Kegui would not be treated fairly.
“I don’t think it’s going to be a fair trial. I don't know what kind of sentence they are going to give my son. I believe he’s innocent,” he said in a telephone interview.
“Those people climbed the wall and smashed the door to enter the house at midnight,” the elder Chen said, adding that his son “thought they were bandits. No matter who the person is, it’s natural he would pick up a knife in his hand for self-defense. If I were him, if I had a gun, I would have fired at them.”
Under the Chinese legal system, defendants are almost always found guilty once they are tried. Judges exercise leeway in sentencing, but in politically sensitive cases, the judge typically follows instructions from Beijing.
Zhang Jie in Beijing and Anne Gearan in Washington contributed to this report.