BEIJING, May 26, 2000 -- (Agence France Presse) A hunger-striking member of the banned Falungong spiritual group died in Chinese police detention after she was fatally injured during force-feeding, a member of the movement told AFP Friday.

The death of 44-year-old Mei Yulan at a Beijing hospital was confirmed by police and hospital staff who admitted she had died after a hunger strike, but declined to elaborate on the exact circumstances of her death.

Mei's death brings to 19 the number of Falungong members who have died in police detention since the movement was banned in July last year, according to a toll by the Hong Kong-based Information Center for Human Rights and Democracy.

A Falungong member, asking to remain anonymous, said Mei was arrested on May 13 in the Chaoyang district of Beijing while she was doing breathing exercises popular with the movement.

He said Mei began a hunger strike the next day, and that when police tried to force-feed her on May 17 the feeding tube was wrongly inserted causing serious injuries.

The source said Mei immediately lapsed into a coma and was taken on May 18 to Minghang hospital where she never regained consciousness and died on May 23.

A mortuary official at Minghan hospital confirmed to AFP that Mei had died on Tuesday, adding that "hunger strike" had been listed as the official cause of death on her medical records.

She said the body was still at the mortuary, adding that an official from the detention center had come to view the body with Mei's family.

An official from Beijing's Sun He police station also confirmed Mei's death and said she was a Falungong practitioner, but he declined further comment.

The Chinese authorities launched a nationwide crackdown against the Falungong movement after they banned the group in July last year and labeled it an "evil cult."

Tens of thousands of members have been detained and sent for re-education, while those accused of being core leaders of the movement have been sentenced to jail terms of up to 18 years.

Mei's death came after the Information Center for Human Rights and Democracy said earlier this week that 52-year-old Falungong practitioner Yao Baorong jumped from the fifth floor of a police station in northwest China.

The centre said Yao, 52, died in hospital after jumping out of a window of the Anning district police station in Gansu province's Lanzhou City last Saturday afternoon.

Local police refused to comment on the center's faxed report, which said Yao's suicide leap followed numerous unsuccessful police attempts to make the local government employee give up her belief in Falungong.

The two deaths follow confirmation last week by Shuangcheng city police in northeast Heilongjiang province that a 45-year-old male follower died while in their custody.

Falungong claims tens of millions of followers in China, attracted by an eclectic mix of traditional qigong Chinese breathing exercises and Buddhist and Taoist philosophies.

((c) 2000 Agence France Presse)

Category: Deaths