Kerry to press China on activist's sick nephew

US Secretary of State John Kerry was Thursday preparing to appeal to Beijing to help the seriously-ill jailed nephew of Chinese human rights activist Chen Guangcheng.

Chen Kegui, arrested last year in what supporters allege was retribution by authorities over his uncle's escape from house arrest, has been denied medical parole despite suffering from life-threatening acute appendicitis.

"The secretary was made aware of this case and some of the developments this morning, and again expressed his concern... and his intention to continue to raise the case," said Deputy State Department spokesman Patrick Ventrell.

Kerry was planning to speak by telephone to Chinese leaders about the case, Ventrell added, although he was not sure when the call would happen.

"We remain deeply concerned by reports of Chen Kegui's mistreatment in prison and of his acute medical condition," he added.

Chen's father Chen Guangfu told AFP earlier this week that the family had applied for medical parole for his son, "but the prison did not approve it."

"We are very worried. Medical experts say the appendix could easily burst. There is a risk to his life," Chen said, adding: "The prison hospital is unable to deal with the kind of illness Chen Kegui has."

A lawyer for Chen Guangcheng, who now lives in the US following a dramatic escape to Beijing's US embassy last year, appealed for help from the United Nations, saying without medical attention Chen Kegui could die.

In an apparent concession, local prosecutors appear to have dropped a case against Chen Kegui's mother, Ren Zongju, whom they accused of "harboring a criminal" for helping her son before his capture, Chen Guangfu added.

Chen Guangfu described a continued campaign of harassment against his family, saying local thugs have attacked his house with rocks and that posters describing his family as "traitors" have been placed on nearby streets.

Chen Guangcheng, a blind self-taught lawyer, escaped from house arrest a year ago to the US embassy. He was allowed to leave for New York after tense negotiations between the two countries.

Chen, who had angered Chinese authorities by exposing forced abortions and sterilizations under China's one-child policy, told AFP in a recent interview that officials had targeted his nephew in retaliation.

Chen Kegui was sentenced to more than three years in prison in November for assaulting authorities who descended on his village but supporters said he had acted in self-defense.