AP: Falun Gong [Group] Members Charged

Mon Mar 18, 2:47 PM ET

By DIRK BEVERIDGE, Associated Press Writer

HONG KONG (AP) - Hong Kong authorities took their first legal action against Falun Gong followers on Friday, filing charges accusing 16 [group] members of obstruction during a protest outside China' liaison office that ended in a scuffle with police.

The charges have set off a debate over whether the government is trying to silence the meditation [group] and erode Hong Kong' freedoms, as members and civil rights activists fear, or if it just having police enforce the law against overzealous demonstrators, as the government says.

The move follows months of tense manoeuvring between Hong Kong' government and Falun Gong. Falun Gong members are free to practice and protest in Hong Kong, but are outlawed and subject to a brutal crackdown in China, where they are seen as a threat to XX Party rule.

[Group] supporters accuse Hong Kong of acting under pressure from China to crack down on the group. Hong Kong denies the charge, even though it has gradually adopted language similar to Beijing', calling Falun Gong a "[slanderous term used by Chinese government]" that bears close scrutiny.

On Thursday, four Swiss followers began a protest outside the front door of the Chinese government office here, refusing food and ignoring repeated police orders that they move a few steps away to the side of the building.

The Chinese office made several obstruction complaints.

When police finally decided to remove the protesters, 12 local Falun Gong followers created a circle to shield the Swiss, leading to a shoving and shouting match in which both sides claimed to have suffered minor injuries.

Police on Friday filed two counts of obstruction against the Falun Gong practitioners. The first count carries up to three months in jail and a fine of $64. The second carries up to three months and a $640 fine.

"They were peacefully demonstrating and weren' causing any inconvenience to anyone, so they have done no wrong," said Falun Gong spokesman Kan Hung-cheung. "We can see that the police are bowing to the government and (Chinese President) Jiang Zemin. This is unwise and unreasonable, and is hurting human rights and rule of law of Hong Kong."

The director of the Hong Kong Human Rights Monitor, Law Yuk-kai, agreed.

"We believe police are not just clearing street obstruction, but clearing dissenting activities as well," Law said.

The government' Security Bureau insisted that Hong Kong' freedoms, left over from British colonial days, will be protected but that the law also must be respected.


[Group] members appeared in court Friday, many wearing their customary yellow T-shirts and blue banners saying they were on a hunger strike. Magistrate Tong Man freed them but ordered that they appear next Friday so charges can be formally read out.


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