By Sui-Lee Wee
BEIJING (Reuters) - Blind legal activist Chen Guangcheng said on Saturday that Chinese police had sent the case of his nephew, charged with intentional infliction of injury, to the state prosecutor, paving the way for what he expects will be an unfair trial.
The case of Chen Guangcheng's nephew, Chen Kegui, has renewed international focus on China's human rights and legal system.
Chen has been held incommunicado by police for over five months and has been denied access to his choice of lawyers. His case is widely seen as illegitimate by Chen's family and human rights advocates.
Chen Guangcheng's escape from house arrest in northeastern China in April and subsequent refuge in the U.S. embassy caused huge embarrassment for China, and led to a serious diplomatic rift between the two superpowers.
Chen Kegui was initially charged with "intentional homicide" for using knives to fend off local officials who burst into his home on April 27, the day after they discovered his uncle had escaped.
Chen Guangcheng told Reuters he believed the police downgraded the charge because they had no evidence to build a case of "intentional homicide" against his nephew.
"Judging from the current situation, my confidence in Chen Kegui getting a fair hearing has dropped a lot," Chen Guangcheng said by telephone in New York, where he is now studying law.
Chen Guangcheng said the central government has failed to live up to its promise in May to investigate officials in Shandong whom he accused of engineering the "years of illegal persecution" against him and his family.
"It's been five months, I haven't heard any news about the investigation against Shandong," he said. "Instead I hear that Chen Kegui's case has been sent to the prosecutor, this piece of news in itself is problematic. So how can I not feel that my confidence has been lowered?"
Police in Yinan in Shandong, where Chen Kegui is held in a detention center, were not immediately available for comment.
The prosecutor "almost always accepts the recommendation" made by the police, said Jerome Cohen, an expert in Chinese law from New York University.
"This makes Chen (Kegui)'s prosecution and conviction highly likely," Cohen said in an emailed statement.
Chen Kegui's family-appointed lawyer, Ding Xikui, said he will travel to Yinan next week to see his client, adding that he could not say for certain the maximum sentence that Chen Kegui faces as he has not reviewed the case or seen his client.
The proceedings against Chen Kegui will be a good test case of whether Chinese leaders are intent on enforcing the rule of law and enacting reforms, said Chen Guangcheng.
"I think that if the authorities, at this point, once again don't make the correct choice and once again refuse to safeguard social justice and continue maintaining their own privileges, they are inadvertently announcing to the world: 'You ordinary folk, we just don't want to enforce the rule of law, we want to make hostages out of you ordinary people," Chen said.
After four years in jail on what he and his supporters say were trumped-up charges designed to end his activism, Chen was released in 2010 and put under house arrest in Shandong.
Chen had accused Shandong officials in 2005 of forcing women to have late-term abortions and sterilizations to comply with China's strict family-planning policies. He was charged with whipping up a crowd that disrupted traffic and damaged property.
(Reporting by Sui-Lee Wee; Editing by Michael Perry)