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First, court officials said the lawsuit was incomprehensible. Then a document was missing. Now, a ballpoint pen has delayed things further.

The wife of veteran Chinese dissident Liu Nianchun on Wednesday accused court officials of inventing excuses and dragging their feet on whether to hear a lawsuit by her husband against Beijing authorities for unlawful incarceration."They said the lawsuit should not have been written using a ballpoint pen . . . A fountain pen should have been used," Liu's wife, Chu Hailan, said in telephone interview.

Chu said she told officials of Beijing's Chaoyang District Court that conditions at a labor camp in northeastern Heilongjiang province where her husband is being held did not permit him to have access to a fountain pen.

The court insisted that Liu refile with a lawsuit that met official standards, Chu said.

Court officials reached by telephone declined to comment.

Last month, Beijing authorities ordered Liu to undergo three years of re-education through labor at a camp in addition to more than one year already spent in detention after his arrest in May, 1995.

Re-education through labor is an administrative punishment with a maximum length of three years that can be imposed by police without recourse to prosecutors or the courts.

Chinese authorities have begun to favor the administrative punishment as a way to remove dissidents from circulation without the complicated process of a judicial trial.

Liu, 48, was accused of accepting illegal aid from human-rights organizations abroad, drafting an appeal in collaboration with former student leader Wang Dan that allegedly slandered the government and trying to form a group designed to promote workers' rights.

Liu filed a lawsuit with the court last month, arguing that he had neither violated the constitution nor the Criminal Code and demanding that the decision to incarcerate him be revoked.

Court officials have appeared reluctant to act on Liu's lawsuit.

According to law, a court should decide within seven days of receiving a lawsuit whether to hear it.

"It's been almost a month now . . . Still they will not tell me whether we have a case," Chu said.

Chu said court officials informed her on July 22, six days after receiving Liu's lawsuit, that they could not understand it. They would not elaborate on whether the content was unclear or the handwriting unreadable.