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Published: Sunday February 2, 2014 MYT 7:20:02 PM
Updated: Sunday February 2, 2014 MYT 7:21:03 PM

EU 'seriously concerned' about China crackdown on rights activists

Pro-democracy lawmaker Leung Kwok-hung (2nd R), also known as "Long Hair", burns a letter during a protest calling for the release of Chinese rights advocate Xu Zhiyong, outside the Chinese liaison office in Hong Kong January 27, 2014. REUTERS/Tyrone Siu

Pro-democracy lawmaker Leung Kwok-hung (2nd R), also known as "Long Hair", burns a letter during a protest calling for the release of Chinese rights advocate Xu Zhiyong, outside the Chinese liaison office in Hong Kong January 27, 2014. REUTERS/Tyrone Siu

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - The European Union is "seriously concerned" about China's treatment of human rights campaigners after a spate of trials and detentions, the bloc's foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton said.

In response to a Chinese crackdown on prominent rights activists, Ashton called on Beijing to implement pledges it made to the U.N. Human Rights Council and release those imprisoned or detained for peaceful protest.

The statement issued late on Saturday is an increasingly rare instance of EU criticism of China. The relationship between Beijing and Brussels has grown warmer as trade between the partners has doubled over the past decade.

China was granted a seat on the U.N. Human Rights Council in November after it said it was committed to the promotion and protection of the human rights and fundamental freedoms of the Chinese people, though protestors at the time expressed doubts over its sincerity.

China convicted two anti-graft campaigners last week for their role in a protest calling on officials to reveal their assets.

Days earlier it sentenced Xu Zhiyong to four years in jail after he campaigned for the rights of children from rural areas to be educated in cities, as well as for officials to disclose assets.

Ashton said that Xu had been "peacefully advocating social justice and a society based on the rule of law".

She said that the European Union is concerned about the health of some prominent human rights defenders and their families, who are under house arrest or imprisoned and are not receiving independent medical treatment.

(Reporting by Barbara Lewis; Editing by David Goodman)

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