Five alleged practitioners of China’s banned Falun Gong movement set themselves on fire on Jan. 23, in the middle of Tiananmen Square. Before police could put out the flames, one woman was dead and four others seriously injured, including the 36-year-old woman’s daughter, who was only 12. The event was a public relations disaster for both Beijing and Falun Gong. Beijing authorities immediately seized on the incident to launch a propaganda campaign against the spiritual movement, decrying the self-burnings as “suicidal blazes.” That move might not have seemed so cynical had authorities not detained CNN reporters who were on the scene. Police seized their videos of the immolations before broadcasting their own official tapes of the event days later. To Western observers, it was a horrific event connected to a peculiar religious group — followed by the latest strike in a repressive campaign by the Chinese government, a campaign that has been in full force since the government banned Falun Gong in 1999. The movement practices a hybrid of exercise, mysticism and Buddhist and Taoist elements. Falun Gong leaders sought to distance themselves from the immolations. A statement from Falun Gong’s New York office, where the group’s exiled spiritual leader… Read full this story
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