NEW YORK – Ten years ago this Sunday, a deadly piece of stagecraft unfolded on Tiananmen Square in Beijing. At the behest of the Communist Party, five people set themselves on fire with cameras rolling.
China’s state-run media immediately pronounced that the individuals were adherents of Falun Gong, claiming they had been driven to suicide by the spiritual practice. Two of the participants died in connection with the self-immolation. The event was used to turn public opinion against Falun Gong, and to justify the mass imprisonment and torture of its adherents.
The Falun Dafa Information Center and other organizations quickly uncovered significant holes and inconsistencies in the official story, and pointed out that Falun Gong strictly forbids killing, including suicide. Soon, the story unraveled further, as a wealth of evidence was uncovered suggesting that the Chinese authorities had staged the self-immolation as a propaganda piece.
Reporting for the Washington Post on February 4, 2001, Philip Pan traveled to the hometown of two of the participants who had died. He found that they had never practiced Falun Gong.
Despite the fact that the self-immolators were not practitioners of Falun Gong, the incessant propaganda broadcast every evening on Chinese televisions and repeated in the press effectively fomented hatred and mistrust against the group in China. Reports of extrajudicial imprisonment, torture, and killing of Falun Gong practitioners increased dramatically. What had been a growing sense of discomfit among Chinese people with the Communist Party’s “eradication” campaign against Falun Gong practitioners was replaced with indifference or even hate-fueled support.
The failure of Western media agencies to conduct due diligence in assessing the competing claims has too often led to the uncritical acceptance of the Communist Party’s line on the identity of the victims of the self-immolation. And that has, in turn, only strengthened the effect of self-immolation propaganda – hatred toward Falun Gong – among the Chinese people.
On the tenth anniversary of the self-immolation, the Falun Dafa Information Center implores media to take a close look at the evidence and report responsibly on this deadly event. The human cost of getting it wrong is far too great.
Relevant news and reports:
Washington Post, “Human Fire Ignites Chinese Mystery,” Philip Pan, Feb. 4, 2001:
Philip Pan from the Washington Post traveled to Kaifeng to investigate the history of two of the immolators who had died in connection with the event, Ms. Liu Chunling and her 12-year-old daughter. The report cast serious doubt as to whether the victims were actually Falun Gong adherents. “There was something wrong with her...She hit her mother. She hit her daughter too…No one ever saw her practice Falun Gong.” (news)
Washington Post, “China Mulls Murder Charges for Foreign Journalists,” Philip Pan, Feb. 8, 2001
A Washington Post article addressed for the first time questions by overseas Falun Gong practitioners about why the Chinese regime happened to have a camera crew in place to film the self-immolation. Chinese officials claimed their footage of the incident came from CNN, but CNN denied this was the case, as their cameraman had been arrested on the square that day. (news)
United Nations International Education Development, statement made during the fifty-third session in the sub-committee on the promotion and protection of human rights, August 2001:
“The (Chinese) regime points to a supposed self-immolation incident in Tiananmen Square on January 23, 2001 as proof that Falun Gong is an ‘evil cult’. However, we have obtained a video of that incident that in our view proves that this event was staged by the government.
False Fire, an Award-winning Documentary on the self-immolation (www.falsefire.com)
The film “False Fire,” which examines the suspicious points of the Tiananmen “self-immolation” incident, won an honorary award at the 51st Columbia International Film Festival for its analytical approach and exposure of the tragic event. One revealing slow-motion sequence taken from China Central Television’s own footage shows that one of the self-immolators, Liu Chunling—who in the official version supposedly died from burn injuries—actually received a sharp blow to the head with what looks like a metal bar, delivered by a man wearing an army overcoat. She is seen crumpling to the ground and likely died from that blow.
Boston Globe, Falun Gong Appeals for Help, Charles A. Radin, April 19, 2001.
Charles A. Radin from the Boston Globe attends a news conference on the eve of the United Nations Commission on Human Rights in Geneva. He writes, “The most striking part of yesterday’s local presentation was the screening of a slow-motion, stop-action version of a videotape that the Chinese government says shows Falun Gong members burning themselves to death … The government has broadcast the film repeatedly. In the slowed version, it appears that Liu Chunling, one of two people who died, collapsed not from the flames but from being bludgeoned by a man in a military overcoat. Falun Gong members identified the man as a police officer.” (news)
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