Updated: 04/02/2014 21:56 | By Agence France-Presse

Falun Gong lawyers 'incited illegal activities'

Chinese state media lashed out Wednesday at four rights lawyers detained for investigating the treatment of practitioners of the banned Falun Gong spiritual movement, saying the quartet "incited illegal activities".

Falun Gong lawyers 'incited illegal activities'

Human rights activists supporting Tibet and the Falun Gong demonstrate as Chinese President Xi Jinping visits the French city of Lyon, on March 25, 2014 - by Jean-Philippe Ksiazek

The four rights lawyers and "an unknown number of citizens" were held by authorities two weeks ago in Jiansanjiang, Heilongjiang province, according to US-based Human Rights in China.

The group said they had demanded the release of family members from an alleged "black jail" -- a euphemism for illegal detention centres run by local governments.

Jiansanjiang authorities have maintained that the lawyers were "shouting cult slogans in solidarity" with the Falun Gong, a Buddhist-inspired religious group that was banned in China in 1999 and branded an "evil cult".

The lawyers were sentenced to five to ten days of administrative detention and fined for their "illegal activities", the Jiansanjiang Public Security Bureau said in a statement on Monday.

In an editorial, the Global Times newspaper, which is close to the ruling Communist Party, argued that the lawyers "instigated confrontation" by visiting a facility in northeast China where they believed the practitioners were being illegally detained.

"They incited illegal activities rather than offering legal assistance through legitimate channels," the newspaper wrote.

"Lawyers addicted to politics appear on the rise," it continued. "Judging from cyber opinion, the lawyers of this category have formed a force that is against the current country's system. It is regrettable to see the people that should take the law most seriously challenging it."

The Chinese Human Rights Lawyers Group denounced the detention of the lawyers -- Jian Tianyong, Tang Jitian, Wang Cheng and Zhang Junjie -- and family members in a statement last month, calling the move "undisguised persecution, serious abuse of power and violation of the law".

Zhang was released late last week. In online postings as well as in an interview with the Hong Kong-based South China Morning Post, he described being beaten so hard by police officers that three of his ribs were fractured.

Asked Wednesday about the lawyers' detention, Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Hong Lei said he had "no information" on the case.

"But as for policies regarding Falun Gong, we have elaborated on that on many occasions," he said.

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