The U.S. is “deeply disturbed” by reports that Chinese courts have sentenced the nephew of blind dissident Chen Guangcheng to more than three years in prison and is urging a review of the case, State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said.
China sentenced Chen Kegui to 39 months in prison yesterday after being convicted of assault for injuring government officials who had stormed into his home in April to search for his uncle, who had fled house arrest and sought sanctuary at the U.S. Embassy in Beijing.
The nephew’s trial “lacked basic due process guarantees” and failed to meet either Chinese or international standards, Nuland told reporters in Washington yesterday. She said that the 33-year-old Chen Kegui wasn’t represented by legal counsel of his own choosing and that Chinese officials warned lawyers who volunteered to represent him that their licenses would be suspended if they did so.
“This was a deeply flawed legal process that convicted him and sentenced him to three years in prison,” Nuland said. “We regret China’s failure to honor its international commitments and we call on them to review this case.”
International human rights groups also expressed strong criticism of the Chinese actions. Amnesty International yesterday called the sentencing “obvious retaliation for his uncle’s escape from house arrest last spring.”
“Prosecuting Chen Guangcheng’s nephew was a test of China’s respect for the rule of law, and both the nephew, Chen Kegui, and the rule of law lost,” Sophie Richardson, China director at Human Rights Watch said on the group’s website. “This case bore the same disturbing hallmarks as Chen Guangcheng’s persecution – incommunicado detention, denial of lawyers of his choice, and a politicized and closed trial.”
The case “suggests that the new leadership in Beijing can’t or won’t follow through on commitments to investigate local officials implicated in wrongdoing and egregious human rights abuses,” said Richardson.
The elder Chen clashed with authorities in his native Shandong Province over his campaign against the official family planning policy of forced abortion. The dissident, blind since birth, has expressed concern that his nephew would be made to pay the price for his escape from house arrest and the embarrassment he brought the Chinese government.
Visiting lawmakers on Capitol Hill on Aug. 1, Chen said his nephew’s case “is essentially a continuance of my own case.”
Chen, who now studies law at New York University, and other family members have said the younger Chen was acting in self-defense.
“After I had escaped house arrest, local government officials and their hired thugs broke into his home,” the dissident said in Washington in August. “In order to protect himself and to avoid being beaten to death by those thugs,” the younger man “was compelled to defend himself using a kitchen knife.”
The trial dredges up one of the most difficult moments in Sino-U.S. diplomacy in years, as Chen’s escape to the embassy came shortly before a May visit to Beijing by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to discuss strategic and economic issues.
Clinton, speaking Nov. 29 in Washington, recalled that “an already delicate trip had become an outsized test of the U.S.- China relationship.” In the end, Clinton said, “the relationship we’ve worked so hard to build with China proved more durable and dynamic than many feared” and they weathered the storm Chen’s escape created.
Chen, along with U.S. officials and lawmakers, has presented the fallout from Chen’s flight to the embassy as a litmus test for the Chinese legal system.
Speaking at the Aug. 1 press conference while flanked by leading House Republicans and Democrats, Chen said that, “if a case as high profile as mine cannot be properly handled in accordance with Chinese law and with international legal norms, how are we able to believe that China will respect human rights and their rule of law?”