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By Gudrun Schultz

SHANDONG, China, November 2, 2006 (LifeSiteNews.com) – The guilty verdict brought against blind human rights activist Chen Guangcheng in August has been overturned by an appeals court in the eastern province of Shandong, in what family and supporters are calling a clear victory for civil rights.

A self-taught lawyer, 35-year-old Chen, who is blind, has suffered years of persecution and abuse by Chinese authorities for his work opposing the country’s one-child policy and his exposure of a brutal forced abortion and sterilization campaign in Shandong province.Â

On Aug. 24 the Yinan County People’s Court sentenced Chen to fours years and three months prison sentence for “willfully damaging property and organizing a mob to disturb traffic,” charges that supporters say were manufactured by local authorities in retaliation for Chen’s exposure of human rights violations.

Chen’s Lawyer, Li Jingsong, said the appeals court ruling overturning the guilty verdict against Chen also required the Yinan court to carry out a retrial, Radio Free Asia reported Tuesday.

“For them to do that means that the original decision was completely in error and illegal. We can be sure of this. The original verdict has no effect any more. It is obsolete,” Li said. “And an appeals court will never order a retrial lightly, without a very good reason, especially not in a case that has the sort of international impact that this one has.”

“From the point of view of the defense, this is the best possible result.”

An appeals court judge at the Linyi Intermediate People’s Court, who declined to give his name, told RFA’s Mandarin service that the Yinan court used an improper procedure in assigning Chen’s court-appointed defense attorneys, necessitating a retrial.

Chen’s wife, Yuan Weijing, who has reportedly endured harassment, surveillance and questioning from local authorities since Chen was arrested, said she welcomed the news of a retrial, but doubts it will be conducted fairly.

“When I heard the news I was very happy because at the very least it means that Chen will get another opportunity to speak on his own behalf. And it shows that there was a problem with the initial verdict,” Yuan said.

“Even now I am under surveillance. And I’m not sure about the strongest witnesses for the defense; whether they will come out and testify. Especially the ones who had forced confessions wrung out of them. I am afraid that they have been too intimidated to come out and speak.”

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