Lawyer for Falungong believers says assaulted by Chinese police

BEIJING (REUTERS) - A prominent Chinese human rights lawyer said on Friday he was badly beaten by police after he was denied the right to defend believers of banned spiritual group Falungong.

The beating is likely to renew focus on China's human rights record and comes just as rights groups urge US Secretary of State John Kerry to raise the issue of human rights on his trip to China on Saturday.

The lawyer, Cheng Hai, said he was injured in the northeastern city of Dalian by about 10 uniformed police who kicked his legs, tore his clothes and punched his face till his lips were swollen.

Dalian police officials could not be reached for comment.

"The main purpose was to threaten the lawyers and cut off any legal help that is available," Mr Cheng told Reuters by telephone from Dalian. "This is a very serious case of Chinese law being trampled upon and ignored."

A second lawyer, Liang Xiaojun, who is with Mr Cheng in Dalian, said he could corroborate Mr Cheng's claims.

Mr Cheng said he would sue the Dalian police. His attackers were police who had detained Mr Cheng and another lawyer when they were outside a courthouse in Dalian demanding an answer on the sudden postponement of a trial for 13 Falungong believers.

Communist Party officials are especially wary of lawyers.

Those who have taken on sensitive issues in the past have been intimidated, beaten, detained or lost their licences.

Not much is known so far about new President Xi Jinping's government's commitment to human rights. The ruling party brooks no challenge to its rule, but has bristled about international criticism of its human rights record.

The government has taken particular aim at Falun Gong believers. Former president Jiang Zemin launched a campaign in 1999 to crush the group, banning it as an "evil cult" after thousands of practitioners staged a surprise but peaceful sit-in outside the leadership compound in Beijing to demand official recognition of their movement.

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