HONG KONG - Falun Gong practitioners demonstrated in Hong Kong on Monday, charging that Beijing had pressured the territory into bringing criminal charges against 16 followers who will receive verdicts this week.
"We are protesting against the regime's attempt to harm the traditional freedom and rule of law in Hong Kong," the practitioners said.
The defendants, including four Swiss and one New Zealand citizen, were tried for obstruction during a protest outside the Chinese government liaison office here in March. [..]
Magistrate Symon Wong finished hearing arguments last week and said he would issue verdicts Thursday morning.
Falun Gong issued a statement Monday accusing Chinese President Jiang Zemin of exporting China's suppression of the group to Hong Kong, where Falun Gong is legal and free to practice. Mainland China has outlawed the meditation group [..] and is seeking to eradicate it.
Falun Gong said about 20 of its followers turned out in a downtown park Monday. They accused Jiang of "bringing dictatorship to Hong Kong, introducing lies and vicious acts to the people of Hong Kong," the statement said.
Local rights activists have expressed concerns that Hong Kong's first-ever criminal charges against Falun Gong followers are part of a worrying shift away from the traditional freedoms enjoyed by citizens of this former British colony.
The government insists free speech and the right to protest are not being threatened.
Police arrested the Falun Gong followers on March 14 after they refused repeated orders to move their protest several steps away from the front of the Chinese government office, which had complained about the alleged obstruction.
Falun Gong insists there was no obstruction caused by its followers, although police later blocked off the whole sidewalk.
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