A blind Chinese activist under house arrest was beaten into unconsciousness by local authorities and denied medical care, his wife said in a handwritten letter that was smuggled out of the couple’s tightly guarded home.

Chen Guangcheng and his wife have been kept under an unofficial house arrest in their village in eastern China since he was released from prison last fall, and reporters trying to visit them have been kept away by men who patrol the village.

“Soft detention” is a common intimidation tactic against Chinese activists, and some house arrests have lasted years.

A group of 70 to 80 men led by a local Communist Party official stormed the couple’s home in Shandong province’s Shuanghou village on Feb. 18 and beat them for two hours, Chen’s wife, Yuan Weijing, wrote. Her letter was posted Thursday on the website of the U.S.-based China Aid Association, a Christian rights group.

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