US lawmaker seeks to visit blind China rights lawyer

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A US lawmaker said he would ask China to let him visit blind human rights lawyer Chen Guangcheng to assess his condition after accounts that he was severely beaten at his home.

Chinese activists organized through the Internet have been flocking to Chen's village in a bid to win his release from house arrest, but campaigners say that thugs have beaten up all who have come close.

A US commission that monitors human rights in China called a hearing to air concerns about Chen, who enraged authorities by documenting late-term abortions and forced sterilizations under Beijing's one-child policy.

"Enough is enough. The cruelty and extreme violence against Chen and his family brings dishonor to the government of China and must end," said Representative Chris Smith, chairman of the Congressional Executive Commission on China.

Smith, a Republican from New Jersey who is active on human rights issues, said he would shortly ask China to allow a US congressional delegation to travel to Chen's village of Dongshigu in eastern Shandong province.

"I am trying to put together a trip to go there and go to his house. We're already checking flights," Smith told AFP after the hearing, saying that the lawmakers "desperately hope" that Chen is still alive.

Even if China does not allow the trip, Smith said that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton or the US ambassador to China, Gary Locke, should raise the case at the highest levels.

Chen, who will turn 40 later this month, is a self-taught lawyer who has been blind since childhood.

He was released last year after four years in prison. He later made a daring video, smuggled to the US-based group ChinaAid, in which he said police threatened to beat him or throw him back in jail if he spoke out.

Foreign journalists who have tried to visit Chen at his home have been roughed up or harassed, and barred from gaining access to the village.

Testifying before the commission, Sharon Hom, the executive director of New York-based Human Rights in China, said that her group spoke with a villager who reported hearing beatings from inside Chen's house.

"No one has confirmed what's actually happening inside, but the reports that are out should really raise very serious concerns," Hom said.

Chen's wife, Yuan Weijing, earlier reported an attack in February when she said 70 to 80 men stormed inside the house and beat her husband for more than two hours while trashing the place.