July 5, 2001
In China Labor Camp, Deaths Are Disputed
By CRAIG S. SMITH
HANGHAI, July 4 — Chinese officials today confirmed reports that followers of the banned spiritual movement Falun Gong had died in a northeastern Chinese labor camp, but information about the circumstances remained contradictory. The government said the followers died in a mass suicide, while Falun Gong members in the United States insisted they were tortured to death.
The Associated Press Followers of Falun Gong conducting exercises Wednesday outside the office of Beijing's representative in Hong Kong. The sect says that followers who died in a labor camp in China were tortured.
A judicial official in northeastern Heilongjiang Province, Lan Jingli, told The Associated Press that 14 followers hanged themselves from bunk beds with strips of sheeting at the province's Wanjia labor camp before dawn on June 20. The 14 women who died were among 25 followers who staged the mass suicide during a five-minute interval between checks by camp guards, he said. He said the guards discovered the suicides in time to save 11.
"One minute is enough to kill," Mr. Lan said, adding that Beijing had ordered that jailed Falun Gong followers now be kept under constant watch. He suggested that Falun Gong followers who continue to disseminate messages in China from the group's United States-based founder, Li Hongzhi, may be partly responsible for the deaths. "Those organizations are using all possible channels to pass on the so-called `instructions' to the practitioners in the reform camp in order to make them believe that going to heaven after their death is the highest level of practicing," Mr. Lan said.
Three days after the deaths and after reports of beatings had been posted on the sect's Web site (www.clearwisdom.net), Mr. Li wrote that even if a follower "casts off his human skin during the persecution, what awaits him is still Consummation," the goal of all followers.
A spokesman for the central government's State Council Information Office, meanwhile, told the news agency that three women died and eight were rescued, and that the suicides took place on June 21, not June 20. Officials at the labor camp could not be reached for comment.
The incident was first reported by the Hong Kong-based Information Center for Human Rights and Democracy, which said at least 10 Falun Gong followers had died among 16 who attempted suicide. The group cited a family member of one of the 16 who said the suicides were to protest an extension of the followers' sentences by up to six months to punish them for a hunger strike. Falun Gong followers in the United States said suicide violates Mr. Li's teachings and continued to say that 15 women died at the camp from torture.
Copyright 2001 The New York Times Company