BEIJING — Foreign reporters were roughed up this week as they tried to reach human rights activist Chen Guangcheng, who is under house arrest in eastern China, journalists said Wednesday.
Chen, a blind, self-taught lawyer who gained world attention by exposing abuses in China's "one-child" population control policy, has been under harsh restrictions since completing a more than four-year jail sentence in September.
"We were roughly pushed away from Chen's home," said Brice Pedroletti, a journalist with French newspaper Le Monde.
"There were first six strong thugs and eventually about one dozen," he said.
Stephane Lagarde, a journalist with Radio France Internationale, said thugs at Chen's village of Dongshigu in the city of Linyi also seized the memory card of his digital recorder and his China reporter credentials.
One man threatened to hit him with a brick.
"These peasants from the area are recruited for this type of purpose and repelled us very forcefully," he said, while adding he was not beaten.
A New York Times journalist and photographer were also involved in an incident on Monday, a spokeswoman for the US newspaper said, but declined to give further details.
"Our reporter and the photographer are safe and physically fine," said the spokeswoman, Danielle Rhoades Ha.
A local police official denied any such incidents when contacted by AFP.
"It is impossible that our police would hire people to beat journalists. Journalists are free to go and interview him (Chen)," said the woman, who gave only her surname, Gao.
However, activists say Chen's village has been under virtual lockdown since his release last year, guarded by a round-the-clock team of police and thugs.
Chen made headlines last week with the release of a self-made video smuggled from his home. In the video he rails at his house arrest, which he calls "illegal", and at the "hooligan methods" of local authorities.
After the video was made, both Chen and his wife Yuan Weijing were beaten by police, human rights activists have said.
A number of Chen's Chinese supporters who have attempted to reach him have also been beaten, according to US-based rights group ChinaAid and Radio Free Asia.
Chen gained fame -- and triggered official ire -- by exposing widespread late-term abortions and forced sterilisations under China's "one child" policy.
He was arrested in 2006 and later convicted of "willfully harming public property" and "gathering masses to disturb traffic order" after a public rally by supporters.
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