Release “Barefoot Lawyer”
Defendant’s Lawyers Barred from Mounting a Defense
(New York, July 19, 2006) – Chinese authorities should immediately release Chen Guangcheng, a blind lawyer persecuted for exposing official abuses, Human Rights Watch said today. Since his arbitrary detention in August 2005, Chen has been subject to physical abuse by police, and local officials have repeatedly interfered with attempts by Chen’s legal team to interview witnesses and gather evidence. Chen is due to be tried on July 20 for intent to damage public property and inciting others to join him to disrupt traffic.
“When Chen tried to make proper use of China’s legal system, the response wasn’t due process,” said Sophie Richardson, deputy director of the Asia division of Human Rights Watch. “It was house arrest, physical abuse, and then ‘disappearance’ by local authorities. His case is a textbook example of how little the rule of law really means in China.”
In March 2005, Chen learned from villagers that officials in Linyi, a city in Shandong province, had subjected thousands of people trying to evade restrictive population control laws to late-term forced abortions, midnight raids, beatings and compulsory sterilization. Chen then began his own investigation into the allegations. In June 2005, he filed a class-action lawsuit, and then traveled to Beijing to discuss the case with legal scholars, lawyers and foreign journalists. Soon after, the lawsuit was rejected.
On August 12, 2005, local officials imprisoned Chen and his immediate family in their home and shut off all outside communication. They were detained there for seven months. Chen did manage to escape in September, but was apprehended in Beijing and returned to Linyi. When he tried again to escape in October, local authorities failed to protect him against beatings by civilians apparently working in connection with the police to help enforce his isolation. On March 11, 2006, Yinan county police officers “disappeared” Chen for three months. It was not until June 11, 2006, that officials acknowledged he had been formally detained in the Yinan County Detention Center. On June 21, the Yinan County People’s Procuratorate approved Chen’s arrest.
That same day, Chen’s lawyers, Li Jinsong and Zhang Lihui, were able to visit him, but from then on, authorities escalated the pressure to deny access to defense witnesses and materials for all the lawyers and activists involved. On June 22, police officers took lawyer Li in for questioning. Unknown assailants beat three other lawyers defending villagers jailed for supporting Chen. Police officers first looked on as the cameras of the villagers’ lawyers were smashed, then took them in for questioning. When Li Jinsong and Li Subin, another member of Chen’s legal team, tried to visit Chen’s wife on June 23, they were stopped and beaten by guards. The following day, all the lawyers involved returned to Beijing. Li Jinsong and Li Subin tried returning to Shandong on June 27, only to be harassed again while the police again stood by. Some 20 men overturned the lawyers’ car and police took Li Jinsong in for questioning once again.
“Chen’s story – his disappearance, letting unknown assailants beat him and his legal team, and holding him for months without any judicial process – spotlights the failings of the Chinese judiciary,” said Richardson. “China should free Chen and welcome his exposure of official abuses, instead of continuing to persecute him.”
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Chen learns of family planning abuses in Linyi city, Shandong province and begins his own investigation.
After Chen organizes a class-action lawsuit, he travels to Beijing to consult with legal scholars and lawyers and to meet with the press. The suit was filed, only to be rejected.
Chen’s findings are revealed on the Internet and through the foreign press.
August 12, 2005:
Chen and family are imprisoned in their own home. Twenty to 300 officials and civilians who appear to work in concert with the police maintain round the clock watch.
September 6, 2005:
Chen manages to escape to Beijing, where he is apprehended by Linyi city officials and threatened with a long prison term if he does not stop his activism. When he refuses, he is returned to effective house arrest in Dongshigu, his home village.
Lawyers and legal experts who had earlier posted Chen’s findings on the Internet organize to defend him.
September 19, 2005:
The National Population and Family Planning Commission (NPFPC), responding to the concerns raised about Linyi, reports that “illegal family planning practices that violate people’s legal rights and interests do exist. Those who are responsible have been dismissed from duty. Some are under investigation, some are in detention.”
October 4, 2005:
Lawyers Li Fangping and Li Subin and law lecturer Xu Zhiyong attempt to visit Chen and to negotiate with local officials for an end to the enforced isolation. After two of the three were beaten, police interrogate all three, then escort them back to Beijing the following day.
October 24, 2005:
Local officials beat Chen to prevent him from leaving his house to meet with two Beijing scholars, then refuse to permit him to seek medical assistance.
March 11, 2006:
Chen is “disappeared” from his home. His family is told nothing about his whereabouts for three months.
June 11, 2006:
Yinan county officials acknowledge that they have Chen in custody; his formal detention is dated June 10.
June 18, 2006:
An interrogator warns Chen that there is nothing abnormal “if someone dies in the detention center.”
June 19, 2006:
Family, lawyers, legal experts and activist friends cancel a press conference in Beijing after security officers prevent would-be participants from leaving their homes. On the same day, some 10 men, who did not identify themselves, use force to remove Chen’s 70-year-old mother, his 3-year old son, and his older brother from legal expert Teng Biao’s Beijing home, and return them to their homes in Dongshigu village, Shandong. University officials tell two Beijing law professors – Teng Biao from the Chinese University of Politics and Law and Xu Zhiyong from Beijing University of Posts and Telecommunications – to stay away from the case.
June 21, 2006:
The Yinan County People’s Procuratorate approves Chen’s arrest. Chen’s lawyers, Li Jinsong and Zhang Lihui, are able to visit him, but prison officials interfere with their ability to interview Chen. For example, they refuse to allow him to respond to certain questions.
June 22, 2006:
Local police officers take lawyer Li Jinsong in for questioning. Local assailants beat three lawyers defending villagers jailed for supporting Chen. Police officers look on as the lawyers’ cameras are smashed, then take the three in for questioning.
June 23, 2006:
Lawyers Li Jinsong and Li Subin try to visit Chen’s wife, but are stopped and beaten by guards.
June 24, 2006:
All lawyers return to Beijing. An unidentified caller warns lawyer Li Jinsong that he is “seeking death.”
June 27, 2006:
Li Jinsong and Li Subin return to Shandong on June 27, only to be harassed by assailants while the police again stand by. Some 20 men overturn the lawyers’ car and smash their cameras. Police take Li Jinsong in for questioning again.
July 7, 2006:
Li Jinsong announces Chen’s trial is scheduled for July 17, 2006. The trial is subsequently postponed until July 20.
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