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Falun Gong denies tie to self-immolation attempts

Onlookers watch smoke in Tiananmen Square as five people set themselves alight, Tuesday  

One dead, 4 injured in Tiananmen Square, Beijing

BEJING, China (CNN) -- The banned Chinese meditation group Falun Gong denied any connection to an incident on Tuesday in which five people set themselves on fire in Beijing's Tiananmen Square, according to a statement released by the organization.

The five people lit themselves on fire in front of a CNN crew. One of the five died. A police report identified them as members of Falun Gong, acting under the direction of Li Hongzhi, leader of what the report described as the "evil cult."

Falun Gong issued a statement saying: "This so-called suicide attempt on Tiananman Square has nothing to do with Falun Gong practitioners because the teachings of Falun Gong prohibit any form of killing. Mr. Li Hongzhi, the founder of the practice, has explicitly stated that suicide is a sin." Li Hongzhi is living in exile in New York.

Video of the scene, from CNN's Rebecca MacKinnon

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The statement accused China's state-run news agency Xinhua, which also identified the burn victims as Falun Gong members, of lying. It said the Xinhua report was "yet another attempt by (China) to defame the practice of Falun Gong" and called on international media and human rights groups to investigate. The statement did not offer its own explanation of the incident.

The incident began when a CNN crew saw a man sit down on the pavement, pour gasoline on his clothes and set himself on fire. Flames shot high into the air.

Police extinguished the flames within minutes, as security personnel rushed to the area near People's Heroes Monument.

As military police apprehended the crew and physically restrained them, the crew witnessed four more people immolating themselves. They raised their hands above their heads and staggered slowly about, flames tearing through their clothing.

The crew witnessed one of the victims being driven away in a police van. He appeared to have serious burns on his face, and CNN producer Lisa Weaver could smell burning flesh as the van slowly passed. Four other bodies lay on the pavement after authorities put out the flames. Shortly afterward, portable screens were erected in two spots to shield the bodies from view.

One badly burned victim lay on the ground waving his or her hands as police looked on, offering no help. About 25 minutes after the incident two ambulances arrived and took the victims away. One appeared to be a woman, and was left on the pavement the longest -- possibly indicating that she was dead.

Police issued the CNN crew a statement after their detention on Tiananmen Square confirming that one person had died and four were injured. Police said another person had been detained on the scene with two flasks of gasoline.


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