A United Nations independent expert Friday urged China to immediately release Chen Kegui, the nephew of blind human rights defender Chen Guangcheng who currently lives in the United States, stressing that the Government must stop acts of retaliation against the activist.
"It is difficult to see the conviction of Chen Kegui as anything else but retaliation against Chen Guangcheng for defying the Chinese Government," said the Special Rapporteur on human rights defenders, Margaret Sekaggya.
On April 26, Chen Kegui was arrested after local officials raided his family's house in Shandong province without a warrant, according to a news release from the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR).
The raid was conducted after his uncle, Chen Guangcheng, had escaped house arrest and gone to Beijing, where he found refuge in the US Embassy, before being allowed to travel to the US to pursue his studies.
After months of detention without any communication, Chen Kegui was sentenced to three years and three months in prison on Nov 30 for injuring an officer during the raid in a trial that lasted only a few hours.
"I condemn in the strongest terms the conviction of Chen Kegui and urge the Chinese Government to ensure that human rights defenders and their families do not face violations of their fundamental rights as a result of their peaceful human rights activities," Sekaggya said.
Chen Kegui reportedly did not have legal representation of his choice and was not allowed to call any witnesses in his defence.
His family was notified of the trial only hours before it took place, and they were allegedly not allowed to be present, despite being witnesses to what happened during the raid on their house. Chen Kegui and his family have maintained that he acted in self-defence.
"I am particularly concerned about the lack of legal representation and the fact that Chen Kegui's family members were not allowed to testify," said Sekaggya. "The trial bears no sign of equal arms between the prosecution and the defence."
The human rights expert noted that the Chen family is not the only one being targeted for the human rights work of a family member, pointing to a pattern of surveillance, Internet and cell phone access being cut and house arrest, as in the case of Liu Xia, the wife of Nobel Peace Prize winner Liu Xiaobo.
Sekaggya called for all acts perpetrated against human rights defenders and their families to be "promptly and adequately investigated and perpetrators prosecuted without further delay."
Independent experts, or special rapporteurs like Sekaggya, are appointed by the Geneva-based Council to examine and report back on a country situation or a specific human rights theme. The positions are honorary and the experts are not UN staff, nor are they paid for their work.