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Blind Chinese Activist Jailed

A Chinese court has sentenced a blind activist lawyer to four years and three months in prison on what his supporters say are fabricated charges. The lawyer was arrested after recording allegations of forced abortions and sterilizations.

The court in China's eastern Shandong Province on Thursday sentenced 34-year-old Chen Guangcheng to prison on charges of damaging property and "disturbing traffic."

Professor Teng Biao, one of the volunteer legal experts supporting Chen, says the four-year-three-month sentence came as a shock.

"We did not think the verdict would be so tough. And anyway, this is an illegal judgment. The local police, prosecutors, and courts have broken laws and regulations. The accusations have no basis," he said.

Chen's supporters say local officials fabricated the charges against the lawyer to punish him for recording complaints by villagers that they had been forced to undergo abortions and sterilizations.

Such practices are illegal but local officials have been accused of using them to avoid being punished for exceeding China's population targets.

Chen's supporters say that since last August the lawyer and his family have been threatened, beaten and confined to their house.

Chen appeared at his trial last week without his defense team after police detained three of his lawyers on theft charges.

Professor Teng says Chen's case reflects the lack of respect for human rights and due process in China.

"The government promises to protect people's rights (but) laws are not enforced and the human rights situation has not improved," he said.

The United States has said that Chen's treatment calls into question China's commitment to the rule of law and U.S.-based group Human Rights Watch has criticized the Chinese government's treatment of Chen and other legal activists.

Blind since childhood, Chen taught himself law and has campaigned for the rights of farmers and blind citizens. His lawyers say they will now appeal the court's verdict.