Human Rights in China (HRIC) has learned that serious interference by local authorities has resulted in several witnesses failing to appear at the retrial of blind activist Chen Guangcheng.
Chen Guangcheng, 35 and blind since childhood, is a self-taught lawyer and activist in Shandong Province who has fought for multiple rural causes, the most famous of which was a class-action lawsuit he filed against the city of Linyi over an official policy of forced abortions and sterilizations. After repeated arrests and beatings, Chen was detained on March 11, 2006, but was not brought to trial until August 24, when he was found guilty of destruction of property and assembling a crowd to disrupt traffic. Chen was represented by a court-appointed lawyer for the two-hour trial because his own lawyers had been detained the night before. He was sentenced to four years and three months in prison, and was last reported held at the Yinan County Public Security Bureau Detention Center.
On October 31, a provincial appeals court ordered a retrial for Chen, which was set for November 27. However, Chen’s lawyers were provided with no formal notification of the trial date. In addition, there were reports of harassment and detention of witnesses that prevented them from testifying at the retrial:
Chen Guanghe – Chen Guangcheng’s cousin. New reports state that Yinan police officers threatened members of Chen’s family and instructed Chen not to appear at the trial. Sources subsequently told HRIC that Chen Guanghe had arranged to meet Chen Guangcheng’s lawyers at the hotel where the lawyers were staying on November 26. One of the lawyers, Teng Biao, and Chen Guangcheng’s eldest brother, Chen Guangfu, were waiting at the hotel’s entrance when Chen Guanghe arrived, and they saw seven or eight men in plain clothes appear and take Chen Guanghe away.
Chen Guangdong – News reports state that Yinan police officers threatened members of Chen’s family and instructed Chen not to appear at the trial. Sources told HRIC that Chen was put under house arrest and prevented from appearing in court.
Chen Guangyu – Sources told HRIC that Chen was put under house arrest and prevented from appearing in court.
Chen Gengjiang – Sources told HRIC that Chen was detained by police officers from the Yinan Public Security Bureau around noon on November 26. Nothing has been heard from him since then.
Sources told HRIC that Chen Guangcheng’s wife, Yuan Weijing, and his eldest brother Chen Guangfu were kept under constant surveillance in the lead up to the trial, with upwards of 10 police officers tracing their every move. Yuan believes the authorities are concerned that witnesses will say that police coerced them into testifying against Chen in his original trial, and therefore have prevented them from appearing in the retrial.
In addition, sources say that Chen’s lawyers, Li Jinsong, Li Fangping and Teng Biao, were also obstructed for about six hours by more than 20 police officers on November 26 when they attempted to interview the witnesses. According to media reports, on the day of the retrial, Teng Biao was denied entry to the court and was interrogated by police for four hours before being released.
Sources told HRIC that during the retrial, the trial judge prevented defense counsel Li Fangping from cross-examining a prosecution witnesses about contradictions in his statement. When Li insisted on being allowed to proceed, he was expelled from the court and was not allowed to return until after an adjournment. The judge also refused a request by another member of the defense team, Li Jinsong, to delay the trial due to the inability of several witnesses to appear. Li walked out of the court in protest, but returned after a recess.
By the close of the trial on the evening of November 27, none of the abducted witnesses had appeared to testify. However, Chen Guangjun – Chen Guangcheng’s older brother – appeared in court and testified that the police had previously detained him and coerced him into providing his testimony for the prosecution in Chen Guangcheng’s original trial. Chen said that while in detention, he had been prevented from sleeping for three days and nights, and that during that time he had been chained to a chair and given only three small steamed buns to eat. Chen already suffered from lower back pain, and his confinement to a seated position for such an extended period caused him excruciating pain that led him to finally agree to testify against Chen Guangcheng. Apart from Chen Guangjun, only Chen Guangcheng’s mother and wife were present to testify in his defense. Chen Guangcheng also testified on his own behalf for about an hour during the trail. The verdict is pending.
HRIC deplores the unlawful interference with witnesses carried out by the Yinan authorities. “Abducting witnesses, obstructing the access of defense counsel to witnesses and preventing witnesses from appearing in court all violate both international and domestic legal standards that guarantee the accused the right to a fair trial by an independent and impartial tribunal,” says HRIC executive director Sharon Hom. “In addition, Article 49 of the Chinese Criminal Procedure Law specifically states that the procuratorate and public security organs must protect witnesses and their near relatives.” HRIC urges the Yinan officials to take measures to protect the safety of all witnesses and ensure that they are able to testify in court.