BEIJING - A 12-year-old girl who set herself on fire in Tiananmen Square in a purported protest against China's crackdown on the Falun Gong meditation sect has died in a Beijing hospital, government-run television said Sunday.
Liu Siying died Saturday night of sudden heart troubles at Jishuitan Hospital, where she had been receiving treatment since she and four others set themselves ablaze on Jan. 23, Chinese Central Television said.
One of the four, Liu's mother, died that day on the square. The three others are still in the hospital's burn unit.
The Chinese government has said the five were members of the Falun Gong spiritual group, which it banned 19 months ago as a threat to social order and communist rule.
Falun Gong has denied that the five were members, saying its teachings do not condone suicide.
Beijing seized on the group suicide on the traditional Chinese New Year's Eve to drive home its message that Falun Gong is an evil cult that callously pushes its members to acts of self-destruction.
Gruesome images of the five ablaze or their blackened bodies lying on Tiananmen's gray flagstones were beamed on national television.
Government propagandists focused in particular on Liu, showing photos of a smiling, pretty girl in a school uniform and then footage of her writhing charred face crying out for her mother.
The campaign has apparently been effective, creating genuine revulsion for the sect among Chinese. After weeks in early January when state media said hundreds of Falun Gong followers were being rounded up daily on Tiananmen Square, demonstrations by the group have also seemed suddenly to decline.
Falun Gong attracted millions in the 1990s with its mix of traditional Chinese religion, health exercises and the teachings of founder Li Hongzhi, a former government grain clerk now in the United States.
It was outlawed in July 1999 after the group surprised Chinese officials when more than 10,000 members surrounded the leadership's living compound in Beijing in a demonstration to demand official recognition.
HONG KONG --Protesting an anti-cult exhibition, members of the Falun Gong spiritual group Sunday handed out leaflets rejecting official criticism of their sect and showed photographs of members allegedly tortured by Chinese authorities. Around 10 sect members gathered near Hong Kong's City Hall to distribute materials that disputed the Chinese government's claim that five people who set themselves ablaze in Tiananmen Square in January in a widely reported suicide attempt belonged to Falun Gong
The demonstrators were protesting an unprecedented anti-cult exhibition organized by local pro-Beijing organizations. Consisting of more than 200 pictures, it portrayed Falun Gong alongside the likes of the Branch Davidians and Japan's doomsday Aum Shinri Kyo cult.
One Falun Gong follower was thrown out and another two prevented from entering when the exhibition opened Saturday. Members vowed Sunday to continue to their demonstration until the event closed.
There was friction inside the exhibition venue as well. A foreign man in attendance was expelled after quarreling with security guards for holding up a piece of paper reading "Communist party = lying, murderers = evil cult."
The man, who spoke with an American accent but declined to identify himself, said he wasn't a follower of Falun Gong but acted "for the sake of what is true and right."
Organizers declined to comment on the incident.
In January, the Hong Kong government was attacked by pro-Beijing forces in the territory for renting out the city hall to an international Falun Gong conference that was attended by over 1,000 people.
Falun Gong has attracted millions of adherents, mostly Chinese, with its combination of slow-motion exercises and philosophy drawn from Taoism, Buddhism and the often-unorthodox ideas of exiled founder Li Hongzhi.
The group is outlawed in China but remains legal in Hong Kong under a separate legal system.
GENEVA - Suppression of the Falun Gong spiritual movement and continued crackdowns on Tibet make China a top target for U.S. officials when the United Nations Human Rights Commission opens Monday.
Washington plans to take the lead on China by sponsoring a resolution condemning the world's most populous country for what it says is a deteriorating rights situation.
However, the resolution faces a formidable obstacle: a counter-resolution by China. On nine other occasions, China has succeeded in blocking full debate on its human rights record.
Rights groups said they suspect Washington hasn't got the stomach for the slow process of bringing other members of the 53-nation commission on board. Success, they said, hinges on how avidly U.S. leaders lobby foreign governments for support.
"We fear that this announcement was made for domestic consumption in the United States, to calm U.S. public opinion," said Reed Brody, advocacy director of Washington-based Human Rights Watch. "Up to now, no great efforts have been made to have this resolution adopted."
The six-week commission meeting opens in Geneva with a statement from U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Mary Robinson.
Member nations are expected to spend up to a week discussing the situation in Israel and the Palestinian territories. Last fall, an extraordinary meeting of the commission mandated Robinson's office to appoint a commission of inquiry to examine allegations of Israeli human rights abuses. That report is expected to be made public March 26 or 27.
Another crisis to be taken up at the meeting is Chechnya.
Last year, Russia became the first permanent member of the U.N. Security Council formally rebuked by the commission. Moscow was criticized for "disproportionate and indiscriminate use of Russian military force, including attacks against civilians" in the breakaway region.
Robinson, in a report prepared for this year's meeting, said Russia failed to heed international calls to allow an independent inquiry into human rights violations. Meanwhile, "disappearances and killings, corruption, abuses and harassment at checkpoints" continue, she said.
The new president of Congo, Joseph Kabila, also is expected to address the commission.
For the United States, China remains a top human rights priority. The State Department's annual report said thousands of religious institutions had either been closed or destroyed and hundreds of Falun Gong members imprisoned in the past year.
Second on the Americans' priority list is Cuba. Last year's censure resolution criticizing "continued repression of members of the political opposition and the detention of dissidents" passed - but this time Washington must first resolve disagreements with its allies.
The Czech Republic again is planning to take the lead against Cuba by proposing the resolution. But U.S. officials are furious that the proposed text also attacks the U.S. embargo of Cuba.
Last weekend, Secretary of State Colin Powell urged Czech President Vaclav Havel to delete the embargo reference, saying it was a mistake to mix economic and human rights issues.
Other countries on the commission's agenda have been the subject of censure resolutions year after year, including Iraq, Iran, Rwanda, Congo and Myanmar, also known as Burma.
Human Rights Watch said it feared the commission was becoming less effective because the countries criticized for rights violations increasingly are also members of the commission.
Among this year's new members: Algeria, Congo, Kenya, Libya, Saudi Arabia, Syria and Vietnam - nations that themselves have been accused of serious human rights violations. Three countries - Cuba, Libya and Syria - are on the U.S. terrorism list. One-party states include China, Cuba and Vietnam.
"Having governments like this is like having foxes guarding the chicken coop," said Brody. His group believes countries join the commission in order to avoid criticism of their own records.
"It is hard to believe that Libya and Syria and Vietnam are actively going to take part in finding solutions for another country's human rights problems," he said.
Many of those countries have regularly refused U.N. human rights' experts requests to visit the country. A standing invitation for such visits should be a minimum standard for commission membership, Brody said.
BEIJING - A 12-year-old Chinese girl who set herself on fire on Tiananmen Square in a group suicide attempt by alleged members of the Falun Gong spiritual movement has died in hospital, state television said on Sunday.
Liu Siying, the youngest of five people who took part in the self-immolation in January, died on Saturday of a congenital heart condition aggravated by severe internal burns, television quoted doctors as saying.
"We did everything we could to revive her heart but we failed," said a nurse in the burns unit at Jishuitan hospital in Beijing.
Doctors said Liu's external burns had almost healed and skin transplants had been successful but her internal organs, especially her heart, had swollen due to flames she inhaled.
China has highlighted the case of Liu in a nationwide media campaign to discredit Falun Gong and its U.S.-based leader Li Hongzhi. Official reports say she was persuaded by her mother to join the self-immolation.
Television has shown closeups of the daughter's face, charred beyond recognition as she lay on the square calling for her mother, who died on the day of the burnings.
It has also broadcast interviews with Liu, bandaged head to toe, tearfully explaining she had wanted to reach paradise and believed the flames would not hurt her.
"This is the perfection of Li Hongzhi," state television said on Sunday. "This is the paradise imagined by Liu Siying."
"The road to paradise is the road to death," it said. "The Chinese people must thoroughly settle the blood debts with Li Hongzhi and the Falun Gong cult."
It did not mention the three other burn victims.
Falun Gong spokesmen say they doubt the self-immolators were true believers as Falun Gong does not condone suicide.
They say Li preaches salvation from a corrupt world through meditation and the study of texts based loosely on Buddhism and Daoism.
But China says Falun Gong is an "evil cult" which cheats its members and has been responsible for the deaths of 1,660 people by suicide or refusing medical treatment.
China's 19-month battle with the spiritual group it banned in 1999 has sparked international concern about abuse of religious freedom and civil liberties.
Washington will sponsor a motion condemning Beijing's human rights record at the annual six-week session of the U.N. Commission on Human Rights beginning on Monday in Geneva.
Since Falun Gong was banned, tens of thousands of followers have been detained for protesting in Tiananmen Square. Human rights groups say thousands of members are in labour camps and more than 100 have died of abuse in police custody.
China says it has arrested more than 150 Falun Gong protest organisers but authorities deny allegations of abuse, saying they treat ordinary followers with leniency.
HONG KONG - A three-day exhibition aimed at portraying the Falun Gong spiritual movement as an evil cult opened on Saturday in Hong Kong, where the movement is legal though outlawed in mainland China.
The display of more than 200 pictures and photographs organised by pro-Beijing groups in the former British colony classed Falun Gong alongside some of the world's deadliest cults, such as Japan's doomsday Aum Shinri Kyo.
"We hope Hong Kong citizens, through this exhibition, can increase their understanding of cults...This can help maintain Hong Kong's stability," Jiang Enzhu, head of China's Liaison Office in Hong Kong, told reporters at the exhibition.
Falun Gong claims to have millions of followers in China and has shocked the ruling Communist Party by its persistence and ability to organise mass protests despite a nationwide crackdown.
How to handle the controversial movement's activities in this former British colony has become the biggest test to date of the freedoms that Beijing granted Hong Kong when British rule ended in 1997.
A Falun Gong practitioner inside the exhibition hall on Saturday showed a booklet containing pictures of fellow adherents being tortured by Chinese authorities. Security guards swiftly asked her to leave.
"Look at these pictures, I mean these people are tortured to death, to such an extent that it is really horrible," practitioner Fiona Ching told reporters. "And so many people haven't seen these stories yet, so I am afraid they might be misled."
Human rights groups say more than 100 adherents have died in Chinese police custody of beatings, forced medication or other abuses.
China has acknowledged several Falun Gong deaths in custody, but said they were due to illness or suicide.
Earlier on Saturday, outside Hong Kong's City Hall where the exhibition is being held, Falun Gong members distributed leaflets about the movement, known as Falun Dafa, which blends Taoism and Buddhism and traditional Chinese physical exercises.
Hui Yee-han, spokeswoman for the Hong Kong Association of Falun Dafa, said on Friday it regretted that Beijing was vilifying the movement with such an exhibition in the territory.
Beijing has warned it will not allow the group to turn Hong Kong into an anti-China base.
Hong Kong security chief Regina Ip hit out at the group earlier this month, calling it a heretical organisation whose preaching encouraged superstition.
Beijing has stepped up its attacks on Hong Kong's Falun Gong movement since about 1,000 adherents from around the world held protests and a conference at the city hall in January.
At the two-day conference, adherents blasted Chinese President Jiang Zemin for ordering the crackdown, discomfiting Chinese officials and pro-Beijing figures in Hong Kong.
HONG KONG - Pro-Beijing groups in Hong Kong have targeted the Falun Gong spiritual movement in a three-day anti-cult exhibition beginning on Saturday, lumping it together with some of the world's deadliest cults.
The controversial movement, legal in the territory but outlawed in mainland China, has become the biggest test to date of the freedoms that Beijing granted the territory when Britain's colonial rule ended in 1997.
Hong Kong-based members of the movement said they would monitor the exhibition but did not plan to organise a protest against it.
"We have always said that China's suppression of Falun Gong is very ruthless. Now they are organising an exhibition to vilify Falun Gong as a cult. I think that's regrettable," said Hui Yee-han, spokeswoman for the Hong Kong Association of Falun Dafa.
Falun Gong, also known as Falun Dafa, blends Taoism and Buddhism and traditional Chinese physical exercises.
Hong Kong's security chief Regina Ip earlier this month hit out at the group, saying it was a heretical organisation and that its preachings encouraged superstition.
Her remarks followed warnings from Beijing it would not allow the group to turn Hong kong into an anti-China base.
Beijing-backed newspaper Wen Wei Po, which is jointly organising the anti-cult exhibition, said on Thursday the display of more than 200 pictures and photographs would depict "the extreme dangers posed by the world's cults."
The first section of the exhibition, which comprises about 80 photographs, examines the growth of cults and the ways in which governments, including the United States and Japan, have dealt with them.
Japan's doomsday Aum Shinri Kyo cult, Uganda's movement for the Restoration of the 10 Commandments and the Branch Davidian cult in the United States are among those featured, the newspaper said.
In Section two, "Falun Gong: the evil actions of a cult organisation," there is an exhibit of more than 100 pictures including those of the self-immolation of alleged Falun Gong practitioners at Tiananmen Square earlier this year, it said.
The third section, "Falun Gong: Activities in Hong Kong," examines how Falun Gong has "gradually become internationalised and politicised, abandoning its previous stance of being non-political, non anti-government," said Wen Wei Po.
"They have distorted our aims and practices. It's a lie. The materials are fake," Hui said, adding that she would probably visit the exhibition.
What Is Falun Gong? See "Falun Gong 101", by Massimo Introvigne
"Falun Gong 101. Introduzione al Falun Gong e alla sua presenza in Italia" (in italiano), di Massimo Introvigne
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