US concerned at reports Chinese activist's family abused

WASHINGTON (AFP) - The United States said on Wednesday it was concerned about reports that a nephew of blind Chinese human rights activist Chen Guangcheng has been mistreated in jail and other family members harassed.

But the State Department declined to discuss promises made by China in negotiations that led to Mr Chen's departure from China last year after he had escaped house arrest and taken refuge in the US embassy in Beijing.

In an interview with AFP on Tuesday, Mr Chen accused China of violating an agreement to ensure the safety of the activist's relatives, saying his nephew was badly beaten in prison and other members of his family intimidated.

Mr Chen, a self-taught lawyer who embarrassed Beijing by exposing forced abortions, called on Washington to make public the diplomatic record of the negotiations and to raise the issue with China.

"We're deeply concerned by reports that prison officials abused Chen Kegui, the nephew of prominent human rights advocate Chen Guangcheng, during his ongoing imprisonment and that local authorities continue to harass his family members," State Department spokesman Patrick Ventrell said.

"So we urge the Chinese government to treat all of its citizens, including Chen Kegui, fairly and with dignity.

"But in terms of any of our diplomatic conversations, we're not in a position to further characterize our diplomatic discussions, nor at the time in our current discussions," Ventrell added.

Mr Ventrell said he was "not aware, one way or another" of the existence of a written record on the negotiations that ended in Mr Chen's departure from China in May with his wife and son to study law in New York.

The activist fled to the US embassy in the Chinese capital after escaping from house arrest in Shandong province last April, by scaling the walls of his home.

"Not only has the Chinese government not fulfilled its own promises to me a year ago, but it has also become worse as they have not stopped persecuting my family members," Chen told AFP.

"This in itself shows that the Chinese communist regime has no intention to change its course," he said.

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