[Coordinators] of the Malaysian chapter of the Falun Gong spiritual movement were charged Tuesday with breaching corporate laws in what the group claims is an effort to stop it from highlighting the abuse of fellow practitioners in China.
The seven men and two women, all Malaysians from the nonprofit Falun Dafa Research Center Berhad, registered as a private company in 2003, pleaded not guilty to six charges filed against them by Malaysia's Companies Commission for technical breaches including failure to submit minutes and annual returns or to keep a members' register.
The nine Falun Gong directors, in a statement, charged they were taken to court to "stop us from continuing to highlight the blatant abuse and ill-treatment of our fellow practitioners in China." They appealed to the government to ensure their freedom of expression.
Defense counsel Edmund Bon alleged the organization was being singled out by the government, noting that the charges were "highly unreasonable" because the offenses were minor and fairly common in other companies in the country.
The Malaysian chapter of the movement had earlier been fined 2,050 ringgit (US$540) for the six offenses and Bon said it was unusual for the directors to also be prosecuted for the same infractions. He said the group had chosen to fight the case in court rather than pay an additional fine of a total 43,650 ringgit (US$11,490).
"Before this persecution there were threats by the Companies Commission to wind up (the group) on various grounds, and one of the grounds was national security," Bon told reporters outside a magistrate's court in Kuala Lumpur.
He said the threat was dropped after members wrote in to explain that activities including exercise sessions were not "prejudicial to the wellbeing of the nation." The organization's bid to be registered as a society in Malaysia had previously been rejected three times without reason.
The court hearing has been postponed to July 1.
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