- The Washington Times - Friday, August 18, 2006

BEIJING — The trial of a Chinese rights activist ended in disarray yesterday with his main attorney detained until the hearing ended and the defendant rejecting two officially appointed stand-in lawyers.

Chen Guangcheng, 34, a blind dissident, faced charges of illegal assembly and intent to damage public property, charges his supporters say were fabricated in retaliation for his activism.

No verdict was delivered after the trial, defense lawyer Zhang Lihui said. Verdicts in China usually are delivered within a month. Mr. Chen could be sentenced to a maximum of five years in prison if convicted.

Mr. Zhang said he and two other members of the activist’s legal team were detained Thursday and accused of stealing a wallet. Mr. Zhang said he and lawyer Li Fangping were released after two hours.

“This trial was unjust and illegal,” Mr. Zhang said. “We refused to go in protest.”

A third team member, Xu Zhiyong, said he was beaten by five unidentified men before being taken in by police. Mr. Xu said he spent 22 hours in police custody, was not charged and then was released 30 minutes after Mr. Chen’s trial finished.

“It seems clear to me that the sole purpose of taking me in was to make sure I couldn’t represent Chen in court,” Mr. Xu said by telephone.

Mr. Zhang said he did not attend the proceeding in an eastern Chinese court but the activist’s two brothers told him what had happened.

In Washington, the State Department said it was disturbed by reports that Mr. Chen’s lawyers were detained and barred from seeing their client.

Tom Casey, a department spokesman, said the move calls into question China’s commitment to the rule of law.

“Our embassy has strongly protested this detention to Chinese authorities,” he said.

Mr. Chen was arrested after recording the accounts of Shandong villagers who said local officials forced them to undergo late-term abortions and sterilizations in order to meet birth-control limits. Such practices are illegal, but local officials often resort to it for fear of being punished for not meeting birth quotas.

Mr. Chen, who was blinded by a fever in infancy, studied traditional Chinese medicine in college but also taught himself law so he could fight discrimination against disabled farmers, and himself, in his home province.

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