Falun Gong denies mass suicide
By CNN's Kirsty Alfredson
HONG KONG, China -- The Falun Gong is denying reports 16 of its followers have committed suicide in a Chinese labor center instead saying they were tortured to death.
Members of the outlawed group, which China calls an evil cult, have reportedly died in a mass suicide according to the Hong Kong based Information Center for Human Rights.
It says 16 Falun Gong practitioners hanged themselves in the Harbin labor camp on 20 June after being tortured and authorities increased their period of detention by three to six months.
Spokesman Frank Lu says police in China confirmed their report.
"We have talked to the family members of those who have committed suicide," Lu told CNN.
"We have also talked to police officers from the native towns of a few of the suicides. They have indicated it was a mass suicide."
A spate of torture
The Falun Gong website tells a conflicting version of the June incident reporting least 15 female Falun Gong practitioners "died in a spate of violence and torture at the Wanjia Labor Camp in Harbin City, Heilongjiang Province, China".
"The Wanjia Reeducation Labor Camp claims that the cause of death was that the women committed mass suicide by hanging, but could not explain how this could happen given the fact that the victims were under 24-hour surveillance in the labor camp," the website states.
The Falun Gong spiritual and mediation group names four of the dead women and outlines horrifying systemic abuse.
Practitioners to recant beliefs
"Some 50 female practitioners who refused to write a "Separation Statement" denouncing Falun Gong were thrown into male prisoners' cells to face abuse" the Falun Gong claims.
"Labor camp guards demanded that they also stand on the cement floor 24 hours a day, tied them up all night long and deprived them of sleep."
Scholars and diplomats tracking the Falun Gong in China say police and prison departments have orders from Beijing to step up pressure on the group.
One goal they say is to ensure more of the estimated 10,000 practitioners in reform through labor camps recant their beliefs.
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