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Four jailed over Tiananmen blaze

Tiananmen Square victim
A burns victim from Tiananmen Square receives treatment in hospital  

BEIJING, China -- China has jailed four people for organizing an incident in Tiananmen Square in January in which several people were set on fire.

Prison sentences ranged from seven years to life, Xinhua news agency reported on Friday.

The Number One Intermediate People's Court in Beijing found the four guilty of intentional homicide for "organising, masterminding, instigating and assisting" followers of the banned Falun Gong spiritual group to commit suicide, Xinhua said.

China says the five people who set fire to themselves on the square were deranged by their faith in Falun Gong, Reuters reported.

State media used graphic footage of the incident to help justify a fierce crackdown on the group Beijing calls an "evil cult."

Falun Gong: China's Dilemma  

A mother and her 12-year-old daughter died of their burns and two others were severely disfigured, state media have said. Falun Gong has denied the five were true followers, saying its teachings do not condone suicide.

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Foreign reporters have been denied access to the survivors of the square blaze. Xinhua said Liu Yunfang, 57, from the northern province of Henan, was sentenced to life imprisonment for printing pamphlets encouraging Falun Gong followers to commit suicide.

Wang Jindong, 50, also from Henan, was jailed for 15 years for helping Liu circulate the material and prepare for the self-immolation, the official agency said. Wang was one of the five who set fire to themselves, state media have said.

Xue Hongjun, 49, was jailed for 10 years for encouraging the group and Liu Xiuqin, 34, was given seven years for letting them stay in her home and helping them get bottles for the gasoline which they poured on themselves.

The court found a fifth person, Liu Baorong, 56, guilty of homicide for playing a minor role in the incident, but exempted her from punishment because she confessed and exposed others. China banned the Falun Gong in 1999 after it stunned the leadership by protesting outside their Beijing compound to demand official recognition of their faith.

Falun Gong says more than 50,000 practitioners have since been sent to prisons, labor camps and mental hospitals.

Human rights groups estimate some 200 Falun Gong adherents have been tortured to death in detention.

Falun Gong said in a statement on Friday that authorities had refused to allow the family of a 36-year-old Falun Gong follower who died in detention to reclaim her body, photograph the corpse or get an independent autopsy.


Zeng Xiane's body was cremated without their permission by the Shayang labor camp in the central province of Hubei, it said.

The centre also reported that the Changlinzi labour camp in the northeastern province of Heilongjiang had released several Falun Gong followers after 70 of them staged a hunger strike to demand the release of inmates who had completed their sentences.

It said 11 were still refusing food and another two were still being held beyond their original sentences.

Falun Gong has said in an earlier statement that more than 10 adherents were beaten to death at Changlinzi.

China says the group is trying to overthrow the Communist Party and has caused the death of at least 1,800 people by suicide or refusal of medical treatment.

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