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China sets trial date for rights activist-lawyer

Written by: Staff

BEIJING, Nov 22 (Reuters) China will next week try a blind human rights activist whose previous controversial conviction was overturned, his lawyer said today, voicing fears the new trial will not hear claims that testimony was obtained through police torture.

Chen Guangcheng, who drew international attention last year by reporting forced late-term abortions and other family planning abuses in eastern China's Shandong province, will stand trial on Monday morning, his lawyer Li Fangping told Reuters.

In August, Chen was sentenced to four years and three months in jail on charges that he damaged property and disrupted traffic after a protest erupted in his home village of Dongshigu in February. But he and his family maintained the case was trumped up by vengeful officials, and an appeal court ordered a retrial.

''We will certainly plead 'not guilty' because there's no adequate evidence for either of the charges,'' Li said. ''We hope this time to have an open and fair trial, but that is still just a cautious hope.'' Chen's first trial was marred by defence lawyers being detained on charges of stealing a bag, and he was defended by stand-in attorneys who knew little about his case.

Li, the lawyer, said he feared this time the defence would not be able to flesh out claims that testimony used against Chen was tainted by allegations of torture.

''Key testimony against Chen Guangcheng was obtained through torture,'' he said. Witnesses for the prosecution have retracted their statements but have been warned by police not to attend the new trial, according to Li and Chen's wife, Yuan Weijing.

''All of them suffered grievous torture, and we want to show that to the court, but I'm not sure yet,'' he added.

Officials at Yinan County court, where Chen will be tried, could not be contacted for comment.

Chen's wife, Yuan, earlier told Reuters she feared she would not be allowed to attend the retrial. She has been blocked by local officials from leaving their home village, and could not attend the first trial.

The announcement of Monday's trial follows a recent statement by Wang Zhenchuan, China's deputy chief prosecutor, that ''nearly every wrongful verdict in recent years has involved illegal interrogation'', according to the Xinhua news agency.

Wang said about 30 people are officially found to be wrongfully convicted each year in China after having confessions forced out of them by torture, but added that the real number could be higher.

Reuters LL GC1634

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