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Trial of China rights activist disrupted by arrests of lawyers

[JURIST] The trial of blind Chinese human rights legal activist Chen Guangcheng [HRW case timeline] for illegal assembly and intent to destroy public property was thrown into confusion Friday when Chinese police arrested three of his lawyers, who were accused of stealing a wallet. Two were later released, but Chen refused to accept court-appointed substitutes, insisting they were not familiar with his case. Relatives and supporters of Chen were placed under house arrest or detained earlier this week to prevent them from attending the trial, which Chen's supporters claim is retaliation for Chen's efforts to expose alleged forced abortions [TIME feature] ordered by the local government of Yinan County, Shandong province, under China's one-child law [CFRR backgrounder].

The current proceeding is one of several high-profile steps taken by Chinese authorities in recent months that are viewed by rights advocates as aspects of a new effort to silence dissent in China. The actions include the prosecution of Zhao Yan [HRIC profile, PDF], a former New York Times researcher accused of providing state secrets to foreigners, a crackdown on US Internet companies that had prompted them to be accused [JURIST report] in the West of complying with so-called "Internet oppression", and the jailing of Chinese journalists [JURIST report] for inciting subversion. The Guardian has more. Reuters has additional coverage.

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