By Andrew Quinn
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The United States is deeply disturbed that the nephew of blind Chinese activist Chen Guangcheng was sentenced to more than three years in jail and views his trial as "deeply flawed," the U.S. State Department said on Friday.
State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said the trial and sentencing of Chen Kegui lacked basic due process and was a violation of China's own commitments to respect human rights.
Chen Kegui was charged after using knives to fend off local officials who burst into his home on April 27, the day after they discovered his blind uncle had escaped from 19 months of harsh house arrest in eastern Shandong province and fled to the U.S. Embassy in Beijing.
"This was a deeply flawed legal process that convicted him and sentenced him to three years in prison," Nuland said.
Chen Kegui had been held incommunicado by police for more than six months and was denied access to his choice of lawyers prior to his sentencing on Friday by a court in eastern China.
Chen Guangcheng's escape from house arrest in April and subsequent refuge in the U.S. Embassy was deeply embarrassing for China, and led to a serious diplomatic tussle between the two nations.
Nuland said Chen Kegui's parents had been repeatedly denied permission to visit their son, and were given little advance notice of the trial. She said several Chinese attorneys who had offered to represent him pro bono had been warned that their licenses could be suspended.
"We regret China's failure to honor its international commitments and we call on them to review this case," Nuland said, adding that the case appeared to contradict Chinese assurances given as part of the deal that saw Chen Guangcheng travel to the United States that his family would not be targeted for reprisals.
In another move likely to irritate U.S.-China ties, Nuland confirmed that the State Department's top human rights official met on Thursday with family members of several Tibetans who had recently burned themselves to death to protest Chinese rule of their homeland.
Michael Posner expressed U.S. condolences for the immolations - which have now claimed about 60 lives since March 2011 - and expressed U.S. concern over "the spiraling violence and harsh crackdown in Tibetan areas," Nuland said.
"We remain very concerned about rising tensions that result from counterproductive policies including those that limit freedom of religion, freedom of expression, freedom of assembly, (and freedom of) association in Tibet," Nuland said.
China has branded the self-immolators "terrorists" and criminals, and has blamed the exiled Tibetan spiritual leader, the Nobel Peace Prize-winning Dalai Lama, for inciting them.
Beijing brands the Dalai Lama a dangerous separatist, but he denies supporting violence and says he merely seeks greater autonomy for his homeland, which he claims is a victim of Chinese "cultural genocide."
Activists say China tramples on religious freedom and culture in Tibet, which has been ruled with an iron rod since the 1950 takeover. China rejects such criticism, saying its rule ended serfdom and brought development to a backward area.
(Reporting By Andrew Quinn; Editing by Sandra Maler and Bill Trott)