Tuesday, 2 January, 2001, 16:20 GMT

Falun Gong says over 50,000 followers have been detained

Four more followers of the Falun Gong spiritual movement have been killed in Chinese police custody in the past two weeks, a human rights group has said.

Two followers aged in their 30s died after being beaten while in detention, officially due to "heart disease", the Hong Kong-based Information Centre for Human Rights and Democracy said.

The Falun Gong's website says more than 100 of its members have died as a result of police torture and brutality since the government began a crackdown against the movement in July 1999.

Over half these deaths have occurred in the last six months.

Tens of thousands more followers have been detained or sent to labour camps without trial.

'Heart disease' deaths

In a statement, the Hong Kong Information Centre said two of the latest victims were arrested on 20 December while posting Falun Gong slogans on walls in Shandong province's Qingdao city.

Xu Bing and Lou Aiqing, aged 33 and 34 respectively, were beaten in the Kuiwen detention centre in Weifang city.

On 24 December, police informed their families that they had died of heart disease.

Seeing many wounds on the bodies, the families took pictures of the corpses, but the films were seized by police, the human rights group said.

The family of Xia Shucai, 63, who died on 22 December and was also from Shandong province, said his body had wounds and bruises over it.

Another follower, 32-year-old Su Qinghua, fell to her death from her sixth-floor apartment when police tried to arrest her.

Singapore detentions

In Singapore, a court has formally charged 15 Falun Gong members in connection with an unauthorised protest on New Year's Eve.

They were accused of obstruction and illegal assembly after staging a vigil to draw attention to the plight of fellow members in China.

Demonstrations are tightly controlled in Singapore, requiring permits from police.

The unlawful assembly charge carries a maximum three-month jail term, and a maximum fine of $2,850.

Most of those being held in Singapore are reported to be Chinese nationals.