BEIJING, China -- China has said a public suicide by a purported Falun Gong adherent shows the movement is breaching human rights.
State media said a member of the spiritual movement set himself ablaze on Friday in a Beijing neighbourhood that is home to several Communist Party leaders.
Friday's incident comes three weeks after five people set themselves alight in Tiananmen Square. The Chinese media says they were Falun Gong followers, but spokespeople from the group insists they were not.
The suicide showed Falun Gong leader Li Hongzhi's alleged exhortation to followers "not to be afraid of dying in order to achieve 'nirvana' is absolute heresy that violates human rights," the People's Daily said.
"Cherish your life and don't be victims of Falun Gong any longer," the Communist Party newspaper said in a commentary.
"He burst into flames"
An eyewitness told Chinese television how he suddenly saw a man pour gasoline over himself, flick on a lighter, then burst into flames.
Police say they rushed to put out the fire, but that 25-year-old Tan Yijui was already dead.
State television showed police lifting Tan's charred body, adding that a six-page suicide note linked the man to Falun Gong.
Falun Gong said in a statement it could not verify if the man was a member. "We are extremely sad and shocked to hear (of) the death of a Chinese citizen who was said to have set fire to himself in Beijing. So far, we have no way to verify this person's background," the group said.
Group against suicide
It restated its tenet that it is against Falun Gong teachings to take human life, and that includes suicide.
The movement reacted similarly to the first self-immolation, by five purported Falun Gong adherents who included a 12-year-old girl, in Tiananmen Square last month. One woman, the girl's mother, died.
The Chinese leadership banned Falun Gong as an "evil cult" in 1999 and has launched a major campaign to denigrate it across the country.
It compares the Falun Gong to Japan's Aum Shinri Kyo, or Supreme Truth, accused of deadly gas attacks on a Tokyo subway, and the U.S. Branch Davidian sect whose stand-off with authorities ended in a deadly blaze in Waco, Texas.
"Self-immolation by burning oneself is one of the most notorious characteristics of the evil cults," the People's Daily said.
Beijing bids for 2008 Games
Falun Gong, which is based on elements of Taoism, Buddhism and traditional Chinese meditation and exercises, says none of the Chinese accusations is true, that it is a non-political movement aimed only at improving people. The latest purported Falun Gong suicide took place four days before International Olympic Committee officials are due in Beijing to evaluate the city's bid for the 2008 Games.
Pressure may mount
Beijing narrowly lost out to Sydney in the race to stage the 2000 Games, in part because of its human rights record.
The pressure on China is likely to mount with the new U.S. administration of George W. Bush deciding to sponsor a U.N. resolution condemning China on human rights next month. Administration officials said on Friday the formal paperwork authorising the resolution was still being completed, but the decision had been made to present it at the U.N. Human Rights Commission in Geneva.
Reuters contributed to this report.