GENEVA (AP) — China has wrongly held three activists and should release and compensate them, independent experts appointed by the U.N.'s main human rights body say.

The five-member Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, in an opinion reached in August but not yet made public, says the detentions of Hu Shigen, Xie Yang and Zhou Shifeng violated the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Britain's Guardian first reported the information, having obtained a copy of the opinion, which has been presented to China's government and concerned parties but is still undergoing fine-tuning.

The U.N. human rights office confirmed the group's opinion to The Associated Press on Friday. It calls on China to indicate whether the five have been released and compensated, or say what steps it has taken.

The working group is made up of five independent experts appointed by the Human Rights Council, a U.N.-backed body that counts China among its 47 members.

Over the years, it has found that the Chinese government has arbitrarily detained scores of its own citizens.

Ultimately, the group's opinion — which is not a legal ruling — could increase the pressure and hold an international spotlight on detentions by Beijing, which has repeatedly ignored calls to free its jailed dissidents.

Hu, a legal rights activist, was sentenced on subversion charges last year to 7½ years in prison.

A lawyer for Xie, a prominent human rights lawyer, announced in May that Xie had been released after a two-year ordeal that his family said had included torture.

Zhou, director of a law firm that used to be one of China's best-known advocates for human rights, was sentenced to seven years' in prison last year for attempting to manipulate public opinion and harm national security.

The rights office says countries that have ratified the International Convention on Civil and Political Rights are bound to apply the opinions of the working group.

But Britain and Sweden, which both have ratified it, ignored a panel opinion last year that WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange should be allowed to walk free from his hideaway in Ecuador's embassy in London.

China has signed but not ratified the convention.

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An earlier version of this story was corrected to show it was the Universal Declaration of Human Rights that is said to have been violated, not the International Convention on Human Rights.