Beijing - China said on Friday that self-immolation victims at the centre of a national drive to discredit Falun Gong were in stable condition, but that only one of four had renounced faith in the banned spiritual group.
The official Xinhua news agency said hospital bed interviews with four Chinese who survived a fiery group suicide attempt last month showed two adults were still "diehard" believers who clung to Falun Gong teachings.
"Hao Huijun and Wang Jindong, planners and organisers of the suicide case, still trusted in their 'master' Li Hongzhi by refusing to eat and receive medical treatment at the hospital," Xinhua said. Li is the U.S.-based leader of Falun Gong.
Liu Siying -- a 12-year-old girl who China says was led to douse herself in petrol and set it alight by her mother, the only self-immolation fatality -- was still "greatly influenced by Li Zhongzhi's malicious fallacies," Xinhua said.
The four set fire to themselves on January 23 and were identified as Falun Gong adherents by Chinese state media on January 30, when Beijing revved up the latest in a series of propaganda campaigns against the outlawed sect.
By stressing the continued faith of the survivors -- one of whom Xinhua said no longer wished to talk about the the sect -- China appeared to be attempting to refute Falun Gong statements denying they had any link with the spiritual movement.
The apparently tenacious faith of the burn victims also buttresses China's assertion since it banned Falun Gong in July, 1999, that it is a brainwashing and manipulative cult.
"Although they are stubborn Falun Gong practitioners, our medical workers must try all out to save their lives and give best treatment to them," Xinhua quoted a nurse as saying.
International media have not been allowed to interview the burn patients, who were treated at Beijing's Jishuitan Hospital.
Wang had recovered to the point where he could be moved to a police hospital, Xinhua said, but did not indicate whether he was under detention.
Xinhua said the government had spent more than 236,000 yuan ($28,520) treating the patients and that they had received many letters each day wishing them well and "encouraging them to depart from the evil cult."
China says its tough campaign to crush Falun Gong is necessary to protect Chinese from an "evil cult" that has plotted to overthrow the communist government.
But the crusade has started to hamper China's relations with Western countries and cast a cloud over Beijing's bid to host the 2008 Olympics, with outsiders alarmed by the many reported abuses of the 19-month-old crackdown.
Falun Gong says 50,000 followers have been detained and many sent to labour camps without trial. Human rights groups estimate about 100 believers have died in detention.
This week Dutch Minister Jozias Van Aartsen scrapped a scheduled visit to China because Beijing publicly opposed a planned meeting between Dutch diplomats and members of the banned spiritual movement in Hong Kong.
And Hong Kong leader Tung Chee-hwa has come under fire from critics who say he sided too closely to China after he warned Falun Gong that it would be closely watched and prevented from harming stability in the territory or provoking Beijing.
Falun Gong is legal in Hong Kong, which was granted a high degree of autonomy after returning to Chinese rule in 1997 under a "one country, two systems" formula worked out with Britain.
Some critics fear Tung has opened the door to an erosion of that autonomy, which Beijing had pledged to uphold until 2047.