HONG KONG -- Prosecutors brought stiffer charges against six Falun Gong practitioners arrested at a demonstration outside the Chinese government liaison office here as Hong Kong's first-ever criminal trial against followers of the movement opened.
Sixteen Falun Gong adherents, including four Swiss nationals, are being tried for public obstruction following the sidewalk protest in March outside a government building.
The case has raised concerns that Hong Kong is slowly squeezing freedoms guaranteed to its citizens after its reversion to Chinese sovereignty five years ago. Falun Gong is legal in the former British colony but is banned [...] by authorities in mainland China.
On the first day of the trial, prosecutors accused six of the Falun Gong followers of obstructing police who tried to move them away from the entrance of the Chinese office. Previously, three other demonstrators had been charged with that crime, which carries a maximum penalty of two years
in prison. The nine facing that charge are all Hong Kong Chinese.
All 16 defendants have been charged with two counts of public obstruction, with the lesser of the offences carrying as much as three months in prison or a fine of HK$500 (US$64).
Falun Gong member Erich Bachmann said it was impossible that the group's "small, polite and peaceful appeal" had run foul in a civilized society like Hong Kong.
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