On Oct. 28, a jeep burst into flames in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square, the most politically sensitive spot in China. It was reported that five people died including all three people in the vehicle, and another 38 were injured.
Almost immediately, comments came out on Weibo, China’s Twitter-like social media service, calling the incident a self-immolation. Many of the photos posted online were deleted by censors, but many were preserved on Twitter.
Speculation about it being a self-immolation gave cause to some Western media outlets making reference to an event in 2001, when five people appeared to stage a self-immolation on Tiananmen Square. The Communist Party’s propaganda outlets quickly claimed them to be practitioners of Falun Gong (also called Falun Dafa), a spiritual practice the regime has persecuted since July 1999. The 2001 incident was subsequently debunked as a staged event designed to frame Falun Gong.
The Falun Dafa Information Center released the following statement after the Oct. 28, 2013 jeep explosion:
NEW YORK—While reporting on the fire that erupted on Tiananmen Square earlier today and the self-immolations that have occurred there in recent years, several Western media outlets stationed in Beijing wrongfully stated as fact that Falun Gong practitioners had self-immolated on Tiananmen Square in January, 2001.
Over the past decade, credible sources and analysis have demonstrated the alleged self-immolation event on January 23, 2001 was staged by the Chinese regime as a horrific propaganda ploy to turn public opinion against Falun Gong. Chinese authorities did not allow any independent investigation of the event, and used it as a pretext to sanction the systematic use of violence and extrajudicial imprisonment against Falun Gong practitioners, leading to a surge in deaths due to torture and abuse in custody.
Among the evidence indicating the self-immolations were staged was a Feb. 4, 2001, report by the Washington Post, which disclosed that no one had ever seen two of the alleged self-immolators practicing Falun Gong (news). The report also quoted neighbors saying the life-style of the two individuals was the polar opposite of those who practice Falun Gong.
However, many Western media continue to present the Chinese regime’s assertions about January 23, 2001 as fact, often not recognizing any of the evidence that contradicts this narrative.
“We understand it’s difficult, sometimes even dangerous, for Western journalists stationed in China to investigate and report openly on stories that expose grave human rights abuses there,” says Falun Dafa Information Center spokesperson Mr. Erping Zhang. “But it’s simply unacceptable to use the talking points of a repressive communist regime as the primary source for news articles. Unfortunately, that’s what has been happening over the past decade, and it is precisely this approach that has allowed this false narrative about Falun Gong self-immolators to be recycled in today’s articles.”
“We implore the Western media stationed in China to dig deeper, and not be content with just reflecting the Chinese regime’s narrative in their reports. Doing so allows Beijing to make a mockery of our system of free press, and causes our media to fail in perhaps its most important role: speaking truth to power.”
The Falun Dafa Information Center is requesting Western media that have erroneously listed Falun Gong among the known self-immolators in Tiananmen Square, which include Reuters, USA Today, and The Economist, to correct this error in their reports.
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