The status of human rights in China has triggered a rare show of bipartisanship in the Republican-controlled House during recent days.
In a letter written Friday and released to the public Monday, members from both sides of the aisle expressed concern to Secretary of State John F. Kerry over "harassment and abuse" that Chinese authorities are believed to be inflicting on family members to Chen Guangcheng, a blind Chinese activist living in the United States.
"It has come to our attention that on May 9th, Chen's elder brother, Chen Guangfu, was violently beaten in what seems like an escalating effort to intimidate and harm Chen Guangcheng's family," states the letter, signed by House Speaker John A. Boehner, Ohio Republican, and Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, California Democrat, among others.
The State Department said last week it was "very concerned" about reports of such attacks, though the case of Chen Guancheng has not been a major element of U.S.-Chinese relations in recent months.
The sunglasses-wearing activist made headlines last year when he left Beijing for New York City after being detained and beaten himself by officials of his home government. A lawyer by trade, Mr. Chen had drawn the ire of the Chinese government by exposing cases of forced abortions and sterilizations being carried out as part of the nation's one child per family policy.
After a series of tense negotiations with U.S. authorities, China ultimately allowed Mr. Chen to travel to New York last May on a student visa to study law. His situation has re-emerged in headlines amid reports that his family is facing harassment back in the Shandong Province of eastern China.
"We are very concerned about the treatment of his family members and we will consistently continue to raise them with the Chinese government," State Department spokesman Patrick Ventrell said Thursday.
There is speculation China may be retaliating against the family for remarks made by Mr. Chen in the U.S. According to a report in the Taipei Times, Mr. Chen said he and his family were planning a visit to Taiwan next month to meet with the Taiwan Association for Human Rights and to learn about that nation's judicial reforms.
Taiwan, a key U.S. ally, has a precarious relationship with Beijing.
In their letter to Mr. Kerry, House members said a "most urgent" concern centered on the "dire medical condition" of Mr. Chen's nephew, Chen Kegui, who is in a Chinese prison "reportedly suffering from acute appendicitis."
"His family is fearful that absent proper medical attention (which has been denied by Chinese authorities to date) his life is at risk," they wrote, explaining that in 2012, "Kegui was denied due process and sentenced to over three years in prison for only defending himself and his family against armed intruders."
The letter recommends that Mr. Kerry meet with Chen Guangcheng and his wife to "send a clear and unequivocal message to the Chinese government that this situation is of the utmost importance and that a swift and satisfactory resolution is in their strategic interests."
The lack of a sufficient response from China, the lawmakers wrote, would warrant Mr. Kerry to "utilize the presidential proclamation, issued on August 4, 2011, which made it U.S. policy that individuals engaged in serious human rights abuses and humanitarian law violations shall be denied entry into the United States."
"Regardless of whether any of these individuals intend to travel to the U.S., such a message to the Chinese government would be of great symbolic import," the lawmakers wrote.
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