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Chinese Activist Beaten In Prison

Yuan Weijing, wife of jailed Chinese legal activist Chen Guangcheng, escaped house arrest in Shandong province and traveled to Beijing to plead for her husband's release. Chen was sentenced in August 2006 to more than four years in jail, supposedly for disrupting traffic and damaging property. His attorneys say the charges were trumped up by local officials who were embarrassed by his exposure of China's coercive family planning policies.

Yuan says her husband Chen, who is blind, was beaten by fellow inmates in June after he refused to have his head shaved. Chinese prisoners typically have their heads shaved. But Chen refused to wear his hair any shorter than a crew cut, a way of protesting his innocence. He staged a three-day hunger strike following the beating. "I think his life there is very unsafe," said Yuan. According to Chinese law, seriously ill inmates can apply to jail officials to serve their sentences in a hospital or at home.

Yuan said she would like Chen to be able to complete his sentence at home. She told a Washington Post newspaper reporter, "I'd like to pressure prison officials to explain their definition of how a blind man can take care of himself in prison."

Before his trial and imprisonment, Chen helped file an unprecedented class-action lawsuit on behalf of thousands of men and women in Linyi, a city of ten-million people in Shandong province. Many had been allowed to pay fines for having more than one child but were later ordered to have abortions or be sterilized when local officials realized they had failed to meet family planning quotas.

U.S. State Department deputy spokesman Tom Casey called the charges against Chen Guangcheng "highly questionable" and urged Chinese authorities to "drop the charges." "No one," said Mr. Casey, "should suffer for simply expressing their views, for raising concerns about government policies, and for advocating for the redress of grievances."