Family of blind activist Chen Guangcheng 'tormented' in China

Prison authorities have refused a medical request for the jailed nephew of the prominent human rights activist, highlighting a pattern of persecution of activists' relatives.

Ng Han Guan/AP
Chen Guangfu sits near the window of a restaurant in Beijing, China, April 10, 2013. The eldest brother of Chinese activist Chen Guangcheng said Wednesday that the family faces official persecution and threats despite assurances that they would be treated in accordance to Chinese law when the activist was allowed to leave the country after escaping from house arrest.

The Chinese authorities are denying potentially life-saving medical treatment to the imprisoned nephew of blind Chinese human rights activist Chen Guangcheng, the young man’s father said Thursday. 

“My son’s life could be in danger” if he is not operated on for acute appendicitis, Chen Guangfu said in a telephone interview. Prison authorities have refused his request that his son, Chen Kegui, be moved to a hospital, he said.

“Chen Kegui’s life and health are now in the hands of the same authorities who have authorized or tolerated other abuses against him in prison,” said Sophie Richardson, China director for the New York based Human Rights Watch in a statement. “To deny him appropriate treatment reflects at best incompetence and at worst a twisted effort to torment the Chen family.”

Chen Kegui's treatment at the hands of the Chinese authorities appears to be another episode in a continuing pattern of persecution of activists' relatives.  

Chen Kegui is serving a 39 month prison sentence for “intentional injury” to local officials in his home village who raided his home in April last year searching for his uncle, the blind activist. Chen’s parents say he was acting in self defense and human rights experts say Chen Kegui’s trial last November was a farce in which he was denied his fundamental rights.

The men Chen Kegui was accused of injuring were hunting for Chen Guangcheng after his dramatic night-time escape from house arrest. Unbeknownst to the village search party, he had sought refuge at the US Embassy in Beijing.

He was later allowed to leave with his immediate family for the United States. US officials involved in the negotiations said at the time that the Chinese government had pledged to investigate claims that Chen’s relatives had been mistreated.

Those relatives say they have seen no sign of such an investigation, and that in fact they have been subjected to even greater harassment in recent weeks.

Chen Kegui rang his father last week to postpone his monthly family prison visit, saying that he had been diagnosed by prison doctors as suffering from appendicitis and that he was undergoing a course of intravenously injected antibiotics. 

His father said the prison authorities had since twice rejected his request that his son be taken from the prison clinic to a proper hospital for an operation. “They told me that my son had only a small problem that according to the regulations do not justify moving him,” Chen Guangfu said. “But if he has appendicitis I think he needs surgery.” 

Chen Guangfu said he feared his son was being denied suitable medical treatment in retribution for congressional testimony that his brother, Chen Guangfeng, gave last month, explaining how his relatives in China were being persecuted.

A Washington based nongovernmental organization, Freedom Now, that has been acting for the Chen family, sent an urgent appeal earlier this week to the United Nations’ Special Rapporteur on Torture, requesting him to intervene with Beijing on Chen Kegui’s behalf. 

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