By MARGARET WONG,
Sixteen Falun Gong practitioners, including four Swiss, are on trial in Hong Kong's first-ever criminal case against members of the group banned as an "[slanderous term used by Jiang regime]" in mainland China though it remains free to practice in Hong Kong.
The trial entered its third day with video footage taken by police after they arrived at the Falun Gong protest on March 14, then began arresting [group] members after they refused repeated warnings to move their demonstration a few steps away.
Falun Gong followers shouted that innocent people were being arrested, while one police officer held her hand in pain and told a demonstrator: "You bit me."
The film showed Falun Gong followers outnumbered four-to-one by police who took them away from the protest site. Some demonstrators shouted, "We have committed no offence." Others protested, "Police are arresting innocent people."
All 16 defendants face two counts of public obstruction, while three face charges of assaulting the police and nine face the most serious charge in the trial, obstructing the police.
Although the film showed a policewoman saying she had been bitten, the film that was played early Wednesday did not show her being bitten.
Rights activists and Falun Gong adherents fear that Hong Kong is slowly clamping down and trying to stifle the group's message. Hong Kong enjoys free speech rights unheard of in mainland China, and Falun Gong frequently
protests here against Beijing's often-deadly suppression of Falun Gong in the mainland.
Hong Kong officials say they were not trying to silence Falun Gong, but only attempting to maintain public order after the Chinese liaison office complained that Falun Gong followers were creating a public obstruction outside.
A Falun Gong lawyer, John Haynes, has suggested that the police might have created more of an obstruction than Falun Gong did, by putting up barricades after the protest was broken up. The barricades blocked more of the sidewalk
than the demonstration had, Haynes said.
If Magistrate Symon Wong convicts the Falun Gong followers, the potential penalties range from up to three months in jail or a fine of 500 Hong Kong dollars (U.S. dlrs 64) for the lesser of the public obstruction charges, to a maximum of two years in prison for obstructing the police.
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