HONG KONG--A follower of the banned Falun Gong spiritual movement and her eight-month-old son have died in a Chinese labor camp after traveling to Beijing to petition the central government about their plight, a U.S.-based rights group has reported.

"Persecuting children on the basis of their or their parents' beliefs is a fundamental violation of the rights of the child."

Liu Qing, Human Rights in China

Wang Lixuan and her son, Meng Hao, from the eastern province of Shandong, were detained Oct. 22, 2000, while traveling to Beijing, the New York-based Human Rights in China (HRIC) said in a statement.

"The mother and baby both died at the Tuanhe Forced Labor Dispatch Division in Beijing on Nov. 7, 2000. The coroner's exam determined that Wang Lixuan's neck and fingers were broken, her skull was fractured, and she had a needle stuck in her lower back," the statement said.

Five documented deaths

"Her baby, Meng Hao, was found to have deep bruises on his ankles and head and blood in his nose. It is believed that little Meng Hao had been hung upside down by his ankles," the group said.

It said at least five children of Falun Gong followers had died as a result of official persecution of their parents, while many more had been left in straitened circumstances after parents were detained or sentenced for their beliefs.

It quoted the Global Mission to Rescue Persecuted Falun Gong Practitioners as saying that some under-age Falun Gong practitioners had been sentenced to re-education through labor and been forced to submit to brainwashing.

Others had become orphans or have lost the care of their parents, and also lost their rights to education and other social services and basic human rights, it said.

Nationwide crackdown

"Persecuting children on the basis of their or their parents' beliefs is a fundamental violation of the rights of the child under international law," HRIC president Liu Qing said in the statement.

"The Chinese government should [ensure] that no child is subjected to torture, detention, or loss of basic human rights because of the religious beliefs of themselves or their parents," Liu said.

Human rights groups estimate that hundreds of Falun Gong followers have been jailed and tens of thousands sent to labor camps without trial since then.

China banned Falun Gong in July 1999, after the group staged a massive silent protest outside the main leadership compound in Beijing.

The official Chinese media have consistently [slandered and demonized Falun Gong to justify the inhumane persecution]

Followers describe Falun Gong as a set of mostly age-old practices aimed at self-improvement through physical exercises and spiritual beliefs. The movement claims tens of millions of followers in China, and millions more in other countries.