China anti-corruption activist beaten by police: lawyers

BEIJING (AFP) - A Chinese anti-corruption activist put on trial in what campaign groups say is a crackdown on dissent was beaten by police while in detention, lawyers said Thursday.

Liu Ping, together with Wei Zhongping and Li Sihua, faces a possible five year prison sentence for "illegal assembly" after the trio photographed themselves displaying banners calling for government officials to disclose their assets.

Defence lawyers told the court in Xinyu, in the central province of Jiangxi, that some of Liu Ping's testimony had been provided under duress.

"Police beat Liu while she was in the process of being detained, and also when she was held in a detention centre," Pu Zhiqiang told AFP.

"We asked the court to exclude any evidence obtained by force." One of Liu's attorneys, Si Weijiang, said he had raised in court police violence against his client.

More than 100 "hooligans" surrounded the court on Wednesday, jostling with lawyers in an attempt to prevent them from entering, he added.

"We think they had official backing," Si said.

Liu, 48, an unemployed former steel worker, is associated with the "new citizens movement", a loose grouping of activists calling for reforms to China's legal system, her daughter Liao Minyue said.

Police smashed her mobile phone as she tried to take photographs outside the court on Wednesday, she added.

Asset disclosure is seen by some as a key change that could help China prevent graft after reports of enormous wealth amassed by officials and their families.

At least 15 other people involved in the "new citizens" group have also been detained in recent months, according to US-based rights group Human Rights Watch.

The three suspects have pleaded not guilty to the charges and the trial is likely to continue on Friday, lawyers said.

Police in China routinely coerce admissions of guilt and courts have a near-perfect conviction rate in criminal cases. The government says it is taking measures to reduce forced confessions.