Falun Gong followers renounce group

XINMI, CHINA — Three years ago, he was a die-hard Falun Gong follower, serving a life sentence for trying to set himself afire in the name of the spiritual movement banished by China as “evil.”

Today, with his prison term drastically cut to 19 years for good behavior, Liu Yunfang is a convert of a different sort — and one Beijing is eager to showcase as a successful “rehabilitation.”

“I was wrong,” Liu told reporters who made a government-organized visit to his prison in central Henan Province this week. “I should be punished by law.”

Liu is one of three men imprisoned for orchestrating a group self-immolation in Tiananmen Square in 2001. Liu doused himself with gasoline but was grabbed by police before he could ignite himself.

However, a mother and her 12-year-old daughter died, and images of their bodies engulfed in flames were aired on state television to underscore China’s position the sect is a dangerous cult.

Liu was sentenced for producing pamphlets teaching that Falun Gong followers could reach spiritual fulfillment by burning themselves. Falun Gong members abroad have denied the group’s teachings encourage suicide, saying instead its philosophy values life.

Since banning the group in 1999, Beijing regularly disseminates propaganda against it and justifies its ongoing crackdown by allowing reporters to interview converts in tightly controlled settings.

Falun Gong drew millions of followers in the 1990s with its mix of calisthenics and doctrines drawn from Buddhism, Taoism and the ideas of its founder, Li Hongzhi, a former government grain clerk. Until the 2001 self-immolations, followers staged nearly daily protests of the government ban in Tiananmen Square, the spiritual and political heart of the Chinese capital.

Liu and two other converts, Wang Jindong and Xue Hongjun, met reporters individually this week. In contrite tones, they renounced their faith in Falun Gong and its founder, and expressed their gratitude to the government for treating them well.

Practitioners claim they have been abused, tortured and killed by the hundreds in Chinese prisons and labor camps. Chinese authorities deny mistreatment but have not disclosed how they rehabilitate Falun Gong members.

When reporters visited the prisoners in a government-organized trip in 2002, Liu was steadfast about his beliefs. Now, the former factory worker seems changed.

Shuffling into the meeting room, Liu mumbled incoherently at times to reporters, his voice shaking and eyes welling with tears as he spoke of his former life. Prison officials say he is ill with high blood pressure and other maladies.

Liu said he stopped believing in Falun Gong on Sept. 27, 2003.

“I was more addicted than [the rest] so I caused more harm to the country and the government,” said Liu, 60, who sat hunched in his seat. “Last time when reporters came to me, I still wanted to uphold Falun Gong, but now I know I was wrong.”

He was supported by prison officials on either side when he left.

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(Listed if other than Religion News Blog, or if not shown above)
Associated Press, via startribune.com, USA
Jan. 22, 2005
Audra Ang

Religion News Blog posted this on Saturday January 22, 2005.
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