HONG KONG, Mar 23, 2000 -- (Agence France Presse) Amnesty International on Thursday charged that China's two-year "anti-superstition" campaign had become a massive crackdown against religious and spiritual movements, including the banned Falungong.

The rights group, in a summary of a new report faxed to AFP, called on Beijing to cease "arbitrary detentions unfair trials and other human rights violations" resulting from the official campaign.

"The crackdown is politically motivated and the vast majority of its victims are ordinary people who merely exercised peacefully their fundamental rights to freedom of belief, association and expression," it said.

Tens of thousands of followers of spiritual movements have been arbitrarily detained, while hundreds have been sent without trial to forced labor camps, Amnesty said.

It also accused Chinese authorities of torturing "many" followers and locking up some in psychiatric hospitals.

The report follows the opening of the UN Human Rights Commission in Geneva on Monday, where the United States has promised to table a motion of censure condemning China's human rights record.

Chinese Foreign Minister Tang Jiaxuan warned visiting US ambassador to the United Nations Richard Holbrooke on Tuesday his country would "fight to the finish" if Washington wanted a confrontation over human rights.

Amnesty cited several cases of alleged official brutality against members of spiritual groups, including that of Chen Zixiu, 60, a Falungong follower who died after four days in police custody in eastern Shandong province in February.

Chen had been arrested on suspicion of planning to go to Beijing to petition authorities against the ban on the Falungong, it said.

When her family collected the corpse, Amnesty said, it was "covered with bruises, the teeth were broken and there was blood coming out of her ears."

The report also alleged authorities were applying laws retoractively to secure convictions against sect leaders, and that defense lawyers were prevented from pleading not guilty.

China banned the Falungong last July after some 10,000 followers gathered around Communist Party headquarters in central Beijing in April and demanded the right to meet and practice their group meditation and spiritual exercises.

It has viewed the Falungong as the biggest threat to its one-party rule since the 1989 Tiananmen democracy protests were brutally crushed by the Chinese military.

Chinese authorities admit more than 35,000 members of the banned group were detained while making protests between July and mid-November last year.

((c) 2000 Agence France Presse)