BEIJING, Sept 19 (AFP) - Six people, including four women, have died in police custody in China after being detained for allegiance to the banned Falungong spiritual [group], the group's US-based headquarters said Tuesday.
The six all died either in official custody or in detention centres, with some being beaten or tortured to death, the Falun Dafa Information Centre said in a press release.
The fatalities bring to 278 the number of followers of the [group] who have died in police custody since Falungong was outlawed as an "[Jiang Zemin government's slanderous term omitted]" just over two years ago, the centre said.
It added that unidentified "government sources" in China had put the figure at more than 1,000.
Such cases are notoriously difficult to verify, but independent human rights groups have put the toll at more than 150.
One of those who died, 33-year-old Li Mei from east China's Shandong province, died in May after suffering a broken spine and other injuries at a "transformation school" in the province's Laiyang city, the centre said.
While in the facility she had practised Falungong exercises of the sort performed by [group] followers, it added, leading to the torture.
Another woman, Wang Hong, 39, from Liaoning province, also in east China, died at home on August 31 after being repeatedly tortured at a labour camp after refusing to renounce her belief in Falungong, the centre said.
And He Xueyan, from Sichuan province in China's southwest, was beaten to death in police custody in April, it added, saying her body had not been released yet to her family.
Two male Falungong followers died of unknown causes while in custody, the group said, while authorities said another woman had jumped from a moving train during transit in custody.
The group noted that a series of other followers had allegedly jumped from trains or high buildings in mysterious circumstances in the past.
Tens of thousands of Falungong practitioners have been sent to "re-education through labor" centres since the Chinese government banned the group [...] in July 1999.
The Hong Kong-based Information Centre for Human Rights and Democracy, which has been independently verifying the reports, has said it has been able to confirm 156 deaths of Falungong adherents so far.
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