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Published: Wednesday July 9, 2014 MYT 8:40:05 PM
Updated: Wednesday July 9, 2014 MYT 8:40:05 PM

China puts prominent writers under house arrest as Kerry visits

BEIJING (Reuters) - A prominent writer who has angered China by advocating Tibetan rights said she and her husband were placed under house arrest during a visit to Beijing by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry.

Tsering Woeser told Reuters that state security officers prevented her and her spouse, author Wang Lixiong, from leaving their home since returning from a trip to the north of China on Tuesday.

Wang has written several books on Tibet.

Kerry is in Beijing along with U.S. Treasury Secretary Jack Lew for annual talks with Chinese officials on political and economic issues.

A spokesman for the U.S. embassy in Beijing said he could not immediately comment on the matter.

A senior U.S. administration official said Kerry raised the issue of human rights in a "direct, candid way" with senior Chinese officials on Wednesday, citing individual cases, including arrests made over the last several months.

"He described our perception of a trend in China, with an increase in arrests and an increase in harassment of individuals who are expressing political views," the official said, briefing reporters after the first day of talks.

Kerry also discussed the treatment of minorities as well as the situation in the western regions of Xinjiang and Tibet.

Woeser said she was detained after a U.S. Embassy staffer telephoned to invite her to meet a U.S. official for dinner.

The state security officers said the reason for their house arrest was "secret", Woeser said. She believes she is being held to prevent her from attending the dinner - possibly with Kerry or another member of the U.S. delegation.

"I was on the road when they called, and didn't realise Kerry would be visiting, but found out later he would be in China," she said by telephone.

Chinese state security officials could not be reached for comment.

China has ruled Tibet with an iron hand since troops marched in 1950. Tibet's spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, regarded by Beijing as a dangerous separatist, fled into exile in India in 1959 after an abortive uprising against Chinese rule.

Chinese security authorities frequently detain activists or place them under house arrest ahead of important anniversaries, public events or state visits.

Several lawyers and activists were detained last month ahead of the 25th anniversary of the government's bloody suppression of pro-democracy protests at Tiananmen Square.

Woeser, who lives in an apartment building, said there were two police officials guarding their elevator and others stationed on the ground floor.

The U.S. State Department gave Woeser an "International Women of Courage Award" last March, but she said Chinese authorities would not allow her to travel to Washington to accept the prize.

(Additional reporting by Lesley Wroughton; Editing by Clarence Fernandez)

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