Another Falun Gong member reportedly burns himself in China

3 Jul

BEIJING, Feb. 16 — Another member of the banned Falun Gong spiritual group committed suicide by setting himself on fire today, according to Chinese state media. It was the second time in less than a month that group members were reported to have resorted to self-immolation to bring attention to their cause.

Tonight, state television showed police officers covering the body with a sheet and quoted a witness as saying, ”He poured gasoline over his head, lit it, and burst into flames.”

Five people, including a 12-year-old girl, set themselves ablaze in Tiananmen Square on Jan. 23 while adopting the group’s meditation poses. One person, the girl’s mother, died.

Since then, clips from police videotapes of the incident have been widely broadcast on Chinese state television to justify the government’s suppression of what it has called an ”evil cult.”

The earlier self-immolation was witnessed by a group of foreign journalists in Tiananmen Square, the scene of almost daily small nonviolent protests by individual Falun Gong members for the last 18 months. These mostly pass silently, in the blink of an eye, as members unfurl small banners and, in turn, are quickly whisked away in police vans.

There was no independent confirmation of today’s suicide, which the official New China News Agency said took place around noon on a street in the western part of the capital.

Beijing is busily cleaning itself up for a visit by an inspection team from the International Olympic Committee next week. China desperately wants Beijing to play host to the 2008 summer Olympics. Protest suicides do not help that cause.

Since the five Falun Gong members set themselves on fire in Tiananmen Square nearly a month ago, security in the square has been extremely tight, with police officers blocking the entrances and inspecting identification cards and packages to check for gasoline. But the group still has many followers in China and the incident today took place miles from the square, involving a man who is said to have practiced Falun Gong’s blend of exercise and meditation since 1997.

The news agency identified the dead man as Tan Yihui, a shoeshiner from Hunan province, in central China. It said Mr. Tan, 25, was dead by the time the police arrived and extinguished the fire.

Officials said they discovered a six-page suicide note nearby that identified him as a member of Falun Gong and that said he wished to ”forget about life and death and achieve perfection in Paradise.”

Falun Gong officials have generally denied that those who set themselves on fire were genuine practitioners, noting that the teachings of its exiled leader, Li Hongzhi, specifically forbid suicide.

Still, Mr. Li — who lives in the United States — recently wrote an essay that seemed to encourage his followers in China to take more drastic actions than the silent protests that had characterized the group’s resistance.

Also, after 18 months of persecution by the Chinese government, many group members have been almost continuously harassed by the police or have lost their jobs; they are apparently increasingly desperate and ready to act.

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