(CNSNews.com) - A Chinese court has jailed a legal advocate who drew attention to forced abortions occurring under the country's controversial "one child" policy, after convicting him on public order offenses.
The official Xinhua news agency said Chen Guangcheng, who is blind, was sentenced by the People's Court in eastern Shandong Province to four years and three months' imprisonment for "damaging property and organizing a mob to disturb traffic."
Chen, 35, was represented by state-appointed attorneys, after his own lawyers were detained shortly before the trial and accused of stealing a wallet. The three lawyers were later released.
Radio Free Asia reported that hundreds of police prevented Chen's supporters from attending the two-hour trial. According to Chen's brother, who did attend, the state-appointed lawyers voiced no objections when asked by the judge if they had anything to say.
By contrast, Xinhua said that according to a document released by the court, "Chen's rights were completely protected, and his two lawyers expressed their views in full."
A 450-word Xinhua news report made no reference to Chen's activism on behalf of families affected by coercive population-limitation policies, although his supporters believe he is being punished precisely because his campaigning enraged local government officials.
In March last year, Chen said he learned that officials in the Shandong city of Linyi were forcing parents of two children to be sterilized, while women carrying their third baby were compelled to have abortions.
Thousands of people were allegedly affected by the officials' actions.
Chen offered to help affected couples bring a class-action lawsuit against the authorities, but faced legal hurdles. Then allegations about the forced sterilization and abortion were posted on the Internet and passed on to foreign media outlets.
China's central government eventually called for an investigation, and a year ago official media announced that some Linyi officials had been detained and others fired for illegal practices.
Chen, meanwhile, has been beaten and harassed by thugs suspected of working on behalf of local officials, and subjected to effective house arrest since last fall, according to his lawyers.
The charges against him appear to relate to protests by villagers unhappy with the way local police were treating the campaigner.
Court documents cited by Xinhua accused Chen of being "upset with workers who were sent to carry out poverty-relief programs" in the area.
Last February, the documents charged, he had "rushed to the office of the village committee and damaged doors and windows."
He had later instigated other villagers to damage cars belonging to police and local government officials.
"Using clubs and stones, the mob smashed the windows of three cars from the police station and the town government, overturned the cars in roadside ditches, and beat police officers from the Police Bureau of the county."
The following month, the document said, Chen had organized a group of people who interrupted traffic on a highway, refusing police instructions to desist. More than 290 vehicles were delayed in the three-hour incident, "including an ambulance carrying a pregnant woman to hospital."
Human Rights Watch on Wednesday called Chen's trial "a mockery of justice" and urged the authorities to declare a mistrial.
It said a pattern of abuses against lawyers contravened China's obligations under international law and its stated commitment to the rule of law.
China instituted the "one child" policy in 1979 in a bid to slow population growth.
Urban Chinese couples are generally limited to having one child and rural dwellers to two if their first is a girl. Exceptions are made for members of ethnic minorities and under specific circumstances, such as if the first child is born disabled.
Beijing insists it only uses financial incentives and punitive fines to enforce the policy, but local officials around the country are accused of abuses as they seek to meet population quotas set by the central government.
Earlier this month, assistant U.S. secretary of state Ellen Sauerbrey met with officials at China's National Population and Family Planning Commission, and was quoted as urging them not to permit coercive measures including abortion and sterilization.
She also called for Chen to be set free.
"We believe that there has been a certain violation of normal standards and are urging China to release him from imprisonment," Sauerbrey said.
"Our hope is just that if we keep a focus on the issue, that China will recognize that it is in their best interest to release this gentleman from jail."
See Earlier Story:
Opponent of Forced Abortions Faces Trial in China (July 19, 2006)
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