BEIJING (Reuters) - China's foreign ministry denied on Monday that prominent human rights activist Cao Shunli died because she was refused medical treatment while in detention, in a case which has attracted concern in the United States and Europe.
Cao staged a two-month sit-in along with other activists outside the Foreign Ministry, beginning in June, to press for the public to contribute to a national human rights report.
She went missing in mid-September after authorities prevented her from flying to Geneva for a human rights training program. She was formally arrested in October on suspicion of "picking quarrels and provoking troubles".
Human Rights in China, a New York based rights group, had quoted Cao's lawyer last month as saying she suffered from tuberculosis, liver disease and other ailments. Medical parole was denied until she was seriously ill, and she died in a Beijing hospital on Friday.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei said that Cao had been ill for a long time, and had died of multiple organ failure stemming from tuberculosis after efforts to save her failed.
"While Cao Shunli was ill, she received proactive, conscientious treatment, and her legal rights were protected," Hong said.
He added that China "resolutely opposed" criticism of Beijing's handling of Cao's case by certain unnamed countries.
"We oppose relevant countries using the name of human rights to interfere in China's judicial sovereignty and independence."
Cao's younger brother, Cao Yunli, told Reuters on Sunday that the family was seeking to understand how she could have died of what is a relatively common and easy to treat disease like tuberculosis.
Anu Kultalahti, a China Researcher at Amnesty International, sad Beijing needed to investigate Cao's death.
"Cao Shunli is a courageous human rights activist who paid the ultimate price for human rights activism in China. In her death, the Chinese authorities have blood on their hands," she said.
"Her death highlights how callous Chinese authorities are and how prepared they are to silence independent voices and critical voices."
(Reporting by Ben Blanchard; Additional reporting by Venus Wu in HONG KONG; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore)