Chen Guangcheng, a legal activist who had worked to document abuses of China’s birth limitation policies, stood trial in Beijing on August 18th without benefit of his lawyers. The three members of his defense team were detained by Chinese authorities on charges of theft. Although the three were later released, their detention prevented them from representing Mr. Chen at the time of his trial. They were replaced by two state-appointed attorneys who were not familiar with his case and reportedly did little more than ask the court for mercy because Mr. Chen is blind.
According to news reports, Mr. Chen's supporters were not allowed in the courtroom. His wife, Yuan Weijing, told the Washington Post newspaper the trial was, "ridiculous, absurd, and illegitimate." Sharon Hom, executive director of the New York-based, Human Rights in China, told a reporter, "the court-appointed lawyers who remain silent throughout the proceedings and speak only to ask for mercy on the basis of the defendant's blindness make a mockery of the right to legal counsel." A verdict is expected in late August or early September.
Mr. Chen was placed under house arrest in 2005. A well-known activist on a number of human rights and environmental causes, he had been preparing a class-action lawsuit charging local Chinese officials with abusive population-control practices in and around Linyi, a city of ten-million people in China's eastern province of Shandong. Mr. Chen, who lost his sight as a child, has said: "Someone has to fight for people with no voice."
U.S. State Department spokesman Tom Casey says the charges against Mr. Chen include, "disrupting traffic and destroying public property":
"I think, to say the least, they appear highly questionable to us, as do some of the charges of petty theft that we understand have been leveled against his attorneys."
Mr. Casey says that the U.S. has, "urged the authorities responsible for his prosecution to drop the charges":
"At this point, what we're doing is again urging the Chinese government to respect the rights of their citizens to advocate peacefully for the rights of their fellow citizens, certainly in China but anyplace around the world."
"No one," says Mr. Casey, "should suffer for simply expressing their views, for raising concerns about government policies, and for advocating for the redress of grievances."
The preceding was an editorial reflecting the views of the United States Government.