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Posted: 7/3/2001 2:11:24 PM EDT
Falun Gong devotees in mass suicide over custody At least 10 Falun Gong followers died in a mass suicide to protest against the extension of their detention at a labour camp in northern China, a human rights group said yesterday. Six other practitioners had tried to kill themselves at the camp in the city of Harbin, Heilongjiang province, on June 20, the Hong Kong-based Information Centre for Human Rights and Democracy said. It said the mass suicide attempt came after the practitioners' detention was extended from three months to six to punish them for a hunger strike over frequent beatings. A man who survived the mass suicide said more than 10 people had died, the centre said. An official at the nearest police station to the Wanjia labour camp confirmed to Agence France-Presse that "several" Falun Gong followers had died. According to Falun Gong sources overseas, local police last week tortured four Falun Gong supporters to death in Baiguo township, Hubei province. One practitioner was reportedly burned to death, while two others were dragged to their deaths behind motor cycles. Falun Gong supporters said police had told onlookers the burned man died from self-immolation. On the eve of the Chinese new year in January, five Falun Gong followers - including a 12-year-old girl - self-immolated in Beijing's Tiananmen Square. The girl and her 36-year-old mother, from Kaifeng city, died. Falun Gong has distanced itself from the group, claiming they were not followers because its beliefs do not accept suicide. The Falun Gong movement says about 234 practitioners have died in police custody in China, and that about 50,000 are in detention. More than 500 have been sentenced to jail terms of up to 17 years, it says. Troubled by allegations of human rights abuses ahead of the vote that will decide whether Beijing host the Olympic Games in 2008, Chinese authorities have recently escorted foreign and local journalists on tours of re-education facilities where Falun Gong followers are held. Falun Gong combines elements of Buddhist and Taoist beliefs with exercise techniques and the teaching of the movement's exiled founder, Li Hongzhi. At its peak it claimed more than 200 million members worldwide. After 10,000 followers showed up to demonstrate outside the central leadership compound in Beijing, Chinese authorities embarked on a nationwide campaign to crackdown on the movement. Meanwhile, a prominent Chinese scholar has fled to the United States amid fears that she would join the growing list of Western-linked scholars detained in China. Dr He Qinglian, 44, one of China's most outspoken social critics, arrived at Princeton, New Jersey, two weeks ago. Although due to leave China within weeks on sabbatical, Dr He decided to leave immediately after security agents raided her office on June 13. The agents seized documents, letters, a mobile phone and photographs of Dr He with American friends.
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