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(New York) – The transfer of the case against Chen Kegui, nephew of the prominent blind activist Chen Guangcheng, by Shandong officials indicates that officials there continue to persecute members of the Chen family despite commitments in May to investigate such abuses, said Human Rights Watch today. On October 12, Chen Kegui’s family learned that the Yinan County Public Security Bureau in Shandong province had transferred Chen Kegui’s case to the state prosecutor, paving the way for his indictment under the charge of “intentional infliction of injury.”

Chen Kegui has been held by police, and denied access to his family or lawyers of his choosing, since late April 2012 on allegations that he injured officials who broke into his family home in the middle of the night. The police raid came days after his uncle made a daring escape from illegal confinement in a house located in the same village.

“Local authorities are treating Chen Kegui with the same vindictiveness and disregard for the law that they did Chen Guangcheng,” said Sophie Richardson, China Director at Human Rights Watch. “The central government, which blames local officials and pledged to investigate them for the abuses against Chen Guangcheng, should immediately intervene to end the unlawful treatment of Chen Kegui.”

In late April, Chen Guangcheng escaped from his home, where he had been illegally confined for the previous 19 months. After his guards realized he had escaped, in the early morning hours of April 27, approximately 20 of them stormed the home in which Chen Kegui lived, which is located in the same village. According to an account Chen Kegui gave before his arrest, he seized kitchen knives in self-defense when the men, who were not in uniform and did not produce a search warrant, moved to apprehend him. Chen Kegui’s mother said she saw the men beating her son and screamed, “Beat him to death!” before her son slashed at those who were beating him.

After the altercation, Chen Kegui called the police to turn himself in, but later fled and spent several days in hiding, during which time his mother was detained and charged with “harboring a criminal.” Chen Kegui was ultimately apprehended and formally arrested on May 9. Police placed him at the Yinan County Detention Center in Shandong’s Linyi Municipality, where he has remained incommunicado since.

On May 18, police denied lawyers appointed by Chen Kegui’s family access to him, insisting that Kegui had already been provided with lawyers by the government-controlled legal aid center. Chen’s father denounced the arrangement as “unacceptable”and expressed fears that his son was already being tortured in detention. The refusal to let family-appointed lawyers represent the defendant echoes the case of Chen Guangcheng himself, who in 2006 had also been appointed lawyers by the same legal aid center in his trial on charges of “damaging property” and “gathering crowds to disrupt traffic” in 2006. These lawyers proved unwilling to effectively defend him during his trial, and Chen Guangcheng was sentenced to four years and three months in prison.

According to Chinese law, the state prosecutor must decide within a maximum of a month and a half of receiving the case whether to initiate prosecution. The prosecutor can reject, amend the charges, or send the case back to the police for further investigation. While the charge of “intentional infliction of injury” (article 234 of the Criminal Law) might seem less serious than “intentional manslaughter,” which is what the police initially announced, Chen Kegui and his family have always maintained that he acted only in self-defense.

“The fact that Chen Kegui has already been deprived of his right to choose his own lawyers does not bode well for the rest of the legal proceedings against him,” said Richardson. “While it is legitimate for the judiciary to look into this case, it would be absurd if it does not take into account the long history of persecution and unlawful actions on the part of local authorities leading up to the incident.”

In May 2012, during negotiations between the US and Chinese governments over the fate of Chen Guangcheng, who sought refuge at the US Embassy in Beijing after his escape, Chinese state media reported that the local authorities in Linyi, Shandong province would be investigated for unlawfully confining Chen and his relatives. Chen later confirmed that an envoy from the central government had promised him such an investigation. Yet, more than five months later, there has been no sign of any investigation. There is no public information suggesting that any of the local officials involved in the illegal house arrest have been removed from office or disciplined. Restrictions on his family have eased since Chen left for the US, but the family is still monitored by the authorities.

Human Rights Watch urged the Chinese government to allow Chen Kegui access to his family and the freedom to choose his own lawyers, as well as to ensure that he is not tortured or mistreated. Should Chen’s case move to the trial stage, the Shandong People’s High Court should designate a court in another jurisdiction to conduct a fair and public trial since a fair trial in Linyi Municipality is impossible given the involvement of officials there in the persecution Chen Guangcheng and his family.

“Chen Guangcheng’s dramatic escape drew the world’s attention to the way China treats critics and greatly embarrassed the government,” said Richardson. “Instead of holding local authorities accountable for their unlawful behavior, the government is continuing its persecution of his family.” 

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