China's growing number of human rights activists risk detention and torture, a report from Amnesty International said.
Activists' concerns include forced relocations for building works
The report's release was timed to coincide with a summit of Chinese and European Union leaders due to take place in the Netherlands this week.
Amnesty wants EU delegates to call on China to release those in prison for rights activism.
China's Premier Wen Jiabao is expected to use the summit to call for an end to the EU's ban on weapons sales to China.
"A growing number of people in China are standing up and demanding the basic rights that we in Europe take for granted. For doing so, they face arrest, torture and even death," said Amnesty International Media Director Mike Blakemore.
The report said that, even though many of those campaigning for better rights are members of groups set up by the government itself, activists are vulnerable because their rights are limited and poorly defined.
"Even those working in officially registered civil society organisations may be at risk", the report said.
The activists - who are careful not to call themselves as such in China, preferring terms such as 'organiser' - are also in danger of facing further abuses if arrested.
"Torture and ill-treatment remain widespread and endemic within China's criminal justice system, particularly at the pre-trial stage when beatings or other forms of torture are often used by the police in an attempt to extract a 'confession' from detained suspects.
"Human rights defenders and others with strongly held beliefs or opinions who refuse to 'confess' to their 'crimes' are at particular risk of torture or ill-treatment," the report said.
The report highlights the stories of individuals working to protect rights in the spheres of health, housing, labour, religious and ethnic freedoms.
They include a man detained for trying to protest against the forced relocation of Beijing families to make way for new building for the 2008 Olympics; others who have protested over China's poor working conditions, which claim 350 lives a day; and a Chinese woman who was "beaten to death" in custody for handing out bibles.
"China's human rights record remains extremely poor. Further legal and institutional reforms are essential and they must be implemented on the ground," an Amnesty International spokesperson told BBC News.
Among the specific issues expected to be discussed at the 7-9 China-EU summit is the EU's 15-year embargo on selling arms to Beijing, which was imposed after China's 1989 crackdown on protesters in Tiananmen Square.
Germany and France have called for the arms ban to be lifted, while the US and some EU countries are in favour of it remaining in place.
But analysts say the row is more about geopolitics and domestic economies than human rights.
The US is concerned that arms sold to China by the EU could be used against Taiwan and risk sucking the US into a regional conflict, while France and Germany, meanwhile, believe China could prove a fertile market for their arms and related industries.