'Sect members' go on trial over fire deaths

Hong Kong Standard/July 21, 2001
By Pamela Pun

Five alleged members of the Falun Gong have appeared on trial in a Beijing court for their suspected roles in organising an attempted mass suicide on Tiananmen Square earlier this year, according to court staff and official media yesterday.

The trial started on Thursday morning, one day before the second anniversary of the central government's crackdown on the sect.

"The court started the trial yesterday. No hearing is arranged today. It is not known when the trial will end," a staff member of Beijing Municipal Number One Intermediate People's Court told the Hong Kong iMail yesterday. The staff member refused to say who was allowed to attend the case although an official report claimed the trial was "open."

Liu Yunfang, Wang Jindong, Liu Xiuqin and Liu Baorong were charged with "using an evil cult organisation to make people die", Beijing Daily said yesterday.

"Xue Hongjun was charged for using an evil cult to sabotage the implementation of the law," said the paper which is run by the communist Party's municipal committee.

Seven members of the outlawed sect - six women and one man - attempted to set themselves on fire on Tiananmen Square on January 23, the eve of the last Lunar New Year.

Liu Chunling, 36, died at the scene. Her daughter Liu Siying, 12, died in hospital one month later.

Falun Gong spokespersons in the United States and Hong Kong have repeatedly denied that the seven were members of the sect, saying suicide is against the principle teachings of the organisation.

But the mainland government said the incident proved `the evil nature of Falun Gong and sounded an alarm to those obsessed with the cult', which it likened to Japan's Aum Shinri Kyo cult.

State media and anti-Falun Gong exhibitions showed pictures of people in flames in Tiananmen Square and close-ups of the burned victims in their hospital beds.

Founded in 1992 by Li Hongzhi, ex-soldier-turned-Qigong master, the sect once claimed it had 100 million followers on the mainland.

The central government outlawed the sect on July 20, 1999, three months after some 10,000 practitioners besieged the leadership compound of Zhongnanhai.

Over the past two years, the authorities have launched an intensified crackdown as well as propaganda campaign against the sect, although these moves appear to have failed.

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