A court in the southwestern province of Sichuan has handed down a four-year jail term to veteran rights activist Chen Yunfei after finding him guilty of “child molestation.” Charges of sexual misconduct are sometimes used to target peaceful critics of the ruling Chinese Communist Party (CCP).
The Pidu People’s District Court in Sichuan’s provincial capital, Chengdu, handed down the sentence after a closed trial, it said in a statement quoted by the rights group Weiquanwang.
“The defendant Chen Yunfei was found guilty of forcibly engaging in indecent behavior and molesting a child, and sentenced to 18 months’ imprisonment and three years respectively,” the court said. “The sentence to be served is four years.”
Chen denied the allegations in a statement issued via friends and posted by Weiquanwang.
“This prosecution was on the basis of trumped-up charges, and was changed from the initial charge of picking quarrels and stirring up trouble in order to deliberately stigmatize me,” Chen wrote, saying he has had “no evil thoughts” during his contact with children.
“This prosecution stems from my attention to and investigation into the nine-year provision of compulsory education,” he said, citing two articles online that Chen said had likely drawn the ire of the ruling Chinese Communist Party (CCP).
He added: “I apologize for the harm to the relevant students caused by their prosecution of me.”
Chen was initially charged with “picking quarrels and stirring up trouble” after he wrote online articles based on visits to Sichuan schools during the past two years. He was detained on March 25, 2021, and formally arrested on April 30, 2021.
Chen has already served a four-year jail term on the same charge beginning in March 2015, after he organized and took part in a memorial service calling for justice for the victims of the 1989 Tiananmen massacre during the grave-sweeping festival of Qing Ming.
He was held incommunicado with no access to family or lawyers for six months, according to the overseas-based Chinese Human Rights Defenders (CHRD) network.
He complained to his lawyer in January 2017 of having been held in restraints on two separate occasions for “refusing to properly greet officers at the detention center,” the group said on its website.
Meanwhile, activists in the United States honored Chen with the “Outstanding Chinese Democrat” award at a ceremony at the Liberty Sculpture Park in California.
Chen was awarded by the Chinese Democratic Education Foundation for his lifelong activism, including publicly commemorating the victims of the June 4, 1989 Tiananmen massacre.
Previous winners have included late Nobel peace laureate Liu Xiaobo and the 2019 Hong Kong protest movement.
Zhao Xin, director of the China Democracy Education Foundation, said Chen Yunfei been a staunch defender of human rights and an advocate for the victims of the 1989 massacre for many years.
“He has shown huge tenacity, optimism, positivity and great honesty over a very long period of time,” Zhao told RFA. “He is brave and fearless; a true warrior of the 1989 protest movement.”
“We should never forget our brothers in prison who have been fighting for such a long time.”
Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.