China puts prominent writers under house arrest as Kerry visits

BEIJING (Reuters) - A prominent writer who has angered China by advocating Tibetan rights said she and her husband were placed under house arrest during a visit to Beijing by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry.

Ms Tsering Woeser said that state security officers had prevented her and her spouse, author Wang Lixiong, from leaving their home since they returned from a trip to the north of China on Tuesday.

Ms Woeser, who has written several books on Tibet and last year was given a U.S. State Department "International Women of Courage Award," said she was detained after a U.S. Embassy staffer telephoned to invite her to meet a U.S. official for dinner.

Mr Kerry is currently in Beijing along with U.S. Treasury Secretary Jack Lew for annual talks with Chinese officials on political and economic issues. A U.S. State Department spokeswoman said the United States was "concerned" that Ms Woeser and another recipient of the International Women of Courage Award had been placed under house arrest and prevented from attending the embassy dinner. "We're looking into the matter to determine more details about what happened here and, of course, the reasons," Jen Psaki told a regular briefing in Washington. She did not name the other detained woman.

A senior U.S. administration official said Mr Kerry raised the issue of human rights in a "direct, candid way" with senior Chinese officials on Wednesday, citing individual cases, including arrests made over the last several months.

"He described our perception of a trend in China, with an increase in arrests and an increase in harassment of individuals who are expressing political views," the official said, briefing reporters after the first day of talks.

Mr Kerry also discussed the treatment of minorities as well as the situation in the western regions of Xinjiang and Tibet. Ms Woeser said the state security officers said the reason for their house arrest was "secret." She believes she is being held to prevent her from attending the dinner - possibly with Mr Kerry or another member of the U.S. delegation.

"I was on the road when they called and didn't realise Kerry would be visiting, but found out later he would be in China,"she said by telephone. Chinese state security officials could not be reached for comment.

China has ruled Tibet with an iron hand since 1950 when troops marched in. Tibet's spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, regarded by Beijing as a dangerous separatist, fled into exile in India in 1959 after an abortive uprising against Chinese rule.

Chinese security authorities frequently detain activists or place them under house arrest ahead of important anniversaries, public events or state visits. Several lawyers and activists were detained last month ahead of the 25th anniversary of the government's bloody suppression of pro-democracy protests at Tiananmen Square.

Ms Woeser, who lives in an apartment building, said there were two police officials guarding their elevator and others stationed on the ground floor.

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