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Wed Oct 01 22:21:02 SAST 2014

Anger over detained Chinese activist reaches capital

REUTERS | 01 November, 2011 10:46
One of China's most prominent dissidents, Hu Jia, wears a shirt in support of blind Chinese lawyer Chen Guangcheng, in this undated handout.
Image by: HO / REUTERS

Supporters of a blind legal activist, whose long confinement in his village in east China has sparked widespread anger, petitioned Beijing officials on Tuesday after some said they were beaten when they tried to visit the activist.

In recent months, dozens of supporters have been blocked from visiting Chen Guangcheng, who is under virtual house arrest in his home village in Linyi in eastern Shandong province.

Some of the supporters were beaten by dozens of men in plain clothes while trying to visit Chen on Sunday, and their complaints were later ignored by the local police, said Mao Hengfeng, a petitioner from Shanghai.

She said the petitioners then went to Beijing's Ministry of Public Security, but it was not clear whether officials accepted their petition expressing concerns about Chen's treatment.

"We were roughed up and pushed around, and some of us were hurt, but the police didn't lift a finger and ignored our complaints," Mao told Reuters about the weekend contention in Linyi.

"Now we want the Ministry of Public Security to do something about Linyi -- it's a place without any law or rights."

Mao said that by Tuesday afternoon several petitioners were still at the Ministry of Public Security.

Petitioning officials has deep roots in China, where courts are seen as beyond the reach of ordinary people. But studies show only a small group of people have been able to solve their problems through petitions.

When asked about the beatings, an official in Linyi police station, who refused to give his name, said: "We know nothing about it. We are not paying any attention to these things."

Chen, 39, whose confinement has drawn international attention to China's repressive controls, overcame blindness since childhood to school himself in law and advise residents complaining about land grabs, forced abortions and other abuses.

In 2006, Chen was sentenced to more than 4 years in jail on charges -- vehemently denied by his wife and lawyers -- that he whipped up a crowd that disrupted traffic and damaged property.

He was formally released in 2010 but has been under virtual house arrest since September last year. Chen and his wife endured a "brutal four-hour beating" by local authorities in July, the U.S. advocacy group ChinaAid said last week, citing an unidentified source.

Mao, 50, said that she and other petitioners were inspired by Chen's fortitude but now feared for his safety.

"Whoever harms him, harms us," she said. "We're very worried about his health. We've heard from villagers that he's often beaten and in a bad way."

Liu Li, a petitioner from northeastern Liaoning province who also went to Linyi over the weekend, said three other petitioners were still out of contact, apparently in detention in Shandong.

"I went because I'm worried about his bad health, and we're fearful that he won't last for much longer," Liu said.

Thirty-seven people who attempted to visit Chen in Linyi were beaten by around 100 unidentified individuals on Sunday, the New York-based human rights advocacy group Human Rights In China said on Monday.

Sun Jianmin, a Shanghai resident who was among the petitioners who went to Linyi, said he had known of Chen's case for several years and recently heard about the campaign to free him.

"For the government to allow this (attack) is outrageous. The government says we have friends and rights, but look at how we're treated," he said. "Why abuse a blind man who was just trying to defend the constitution?"

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Wed Oct 01 22:21:02 SAST 2014 ::