China came under pressure from rights groups Tuesday to give urgent medical treatment to the jailed nephew of blind activist lawyer Chen Guangcheng, saying he is languishing from “a life-threatening” case of appendicitis.
In a letter, U.S.-based Freedom Now, which monitors the rights of political prisoners, called on the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Torture Juan Mendez to appeal to Beijing for the immediate transfer of Chen Kegui from his cell in Linyi Prison to a hospital for treatment.
“In addition to the severe beatings suffered by Mr. Kegui, the government continues to subject him to cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment that may amount to torture through the denial of urgently needed medical treatment,” Freedom Now founder Jared Genser wrote.
“In light of the life-threatening nature of Chen Kegui’s illness, the denial of adequate medical treatment in this case presents an urgent threat to his well-being.”
Genser said that Chen Kegui, 33, was suffering from “severe pain,” had been denied access to a doctor, and had not been taken to a hospital despite reports that his appendix had begun to rupture.
Chen Kegui is serving a 39-month prison term after he tried to defend his family in an attack following his uncle Chen Guangcheng's flight from house arrest to the U.S. Embassy in Beijing a year ago. Chen Guangcheng is currently studying law in the U.S.
Prison officials rejected Chen Kegui's recent request for medical parole from his jail sentence after he developed complications from the illness.
Chen Kegui’s father Chen Guangfu has said his son suffered physical abuse in detention at the hands of authorities, who told him that his sentence would be extended to life in prison if he tried to appeal the conviction.
Chen’s denial of medical treatment also drew concern from other U.S.-based groups, Human Rights Watch and Freedom House.
In a statement Tuesday, Human Rights Watch said Chen Kegui is receiving only antibiotics for appendicitis, which could lead to a “life-threatening result.”
“Failure to provide prisoners access to adequate medical care is cruel, inhumane, and degrading treatment that may rise to the level of torture, and violates the right to health and the Standard Minimum Rules on the Treatment of Prisoners,” the group said.
“Chen Kegui’s life and health are now in the hands of the same authorities who have authorized or tolerated other abuses against him in prison and his family in their village,” said Sophie Richardson, China director at Human Rights Watch.
“To deny him appropriate treatment reflects at best incompetence and at worst a twisted effort to torment the Chen family.”
Freedom House called on Chinese authorities to “immediately allow” Chen Kegui access to hospitalization and visits from his family, and urged the U.S. and the broader international community “to pressure the Chinese government to do so.”
Freedom House said that the abuse and imprisonment of Chen Kegui is believed to be in retaliation for his uncle’s escape to the U.S. Embassy last year and his ongoing public advocacy for human rights in China from the U.S.
The group added that prison officials were denying Chen Kegui medical care at a time when the family has been suffering increased harassment by Chinese officials, “an increasingly common tactic employed by the Chinese authorities to pressure human rights defenders to abandon their activism.”