BEIJING, April 25 (AFP) - A member of the outlawed Falungong spiritual movement has been beaten to death in police custody in eastern China, the 16th death of a group follower in detention in nine months, a Hong Kong-based rights group said Tuesday.
Li Huixi, 40, was detained earlier this month in Beijing after protesting against the ban on the group.
He was placed in a detention center in Houzhen village in Shandong province where he was beaten to death by police on April 21, the Information Center for Human Rights and Democracy said in a faxed report.
Police cremated Li's body before family members could pay their last respects. The family was given 45,000 yuan (5,400 dollars) in compensation by the village government and told to keep silent, the center said.
Police in Houzhen village refused to comment on the case, only saying they were "unclear" both about Li's case and how he died.
Li's death is the 16th known case of a Falungong member dying in police custody since the group was outlawed on July 22, the center said.
It was also the third time police had attempted to cover up the death by cremating the body before family members could investigate the cause of death.
Last month, Zhang Zhenggang fell into a coma after he was beaten by police in Huaian, Jiangsu province, the center said.
He was hospitalized for five days before 60 police surrounded the hospital and cremated Zhang before he was officially pronounced dead, it added.
Late last year, Zhao Jinhua, 42, was allegedly beaten to death by police in Zhangxing, again in Shandong province. She was also quickly cremated.
Tuesday marked the first anniversary of an April 25, 1999, demonstration in central Beijing when 10,000 followers of the spiritual group surrounded the Zhongnanhai Communist Party headquarters and protested the pending ban on their membership.
The group, which has also been labelled an "evil cult," advocates clean living, traditional Chinese meditation and breathing exercises.
The Information Center last week reported the deaths of three Falungong members who died in police custody during the last month, including Zhang, Li Yanhua, 46, and Guang Zhaosheng, all of whom were jailed for refusing to renounce their beliefs.