By Michael Martina
BEIJING (Reuters) - The nephew of blind Chinese activist Chen Guangcheng unexpectedly went on trial on Friday for intentional infliction of injury in a case likely to refocus international attention on China's human rights and legal system.
Chen Kegui has been held incommunicado by police for over six 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 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 from 19 months of harsh house arrest in eastern Shandong province and fled to the U.S. embassy in Beijing.
However, police downgraded the charge because they had no evidence to build a case of "intentional homicide" against him, his uncle has said.
The case facing Chen Kegui underscores the pressure still being applied to his family months after his uncle sparked a diplomatic rift when he fled to the U.S. embassy and later left to study at New York University.
Ding Xikui, the family-appointed lawyer for Chen Kegui who has been unable to see his client or review the case materials, told Reuters he had only heard the trial was set to open hours beforehand when he was contacted by Chen Guangcheng in New York.
"After being entrusted as a lawyer by the family I have not been allowed to meet (Chen). This is terribly troublesome. This is illegal," he said.
Ding said the maximum sentence Chen faces is unclear. Verdicts are normally announced about a week or so later.
A court official confirmed the case had begun.
"The prosecutor's office has filed the suit according to the crime of intentional infliction of injury," a woman surnamed Li from the Yinan County People's Court press office in Shandong said by telephone.
She said details of the charges would be confirmed after the trial concludes later on Friday.
Chen Kegui's father, Chen Guangfu, had filed a lawsuit against local police and officials for unlawfully barging into his house but it was rejected.
He said about 20 men led by a local official went to his home and beat his wife and son. Around this time his son, Chen Kegui, took a kitchen knife and slashed three officials.
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 superpowers.
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.
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.
(Additional reporting by Maxim Duncan; Editing by Ben Blanchard)
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