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Court told that • Wednesday February 19, 2003

Associated Press, Feb. 18, 2003

CANBERRA, Australia (AP) — The “long arm” of Beijing prevented Australian Falun Gong practitioners from joining last year’s Chinese New Year Festival in the southern city of Melbourne, lawyers for the spiritual movement said Tuesday.

Mark Irving, an attorney for Australian Falun Gong members, told a civil court in Victoria state that the Federation of Chinese Associations, which organizes the annual festival, discriminated against his clients because of their political and religious views.

Falun Gong, which combines slow-motion exercise with Buddhist and Taoist beliefs, was branded an “evil cult” and outlawed by China in 1999. Since then, authorities in China have conducted a harsh crackdown on its followers.

Irving said Falun Gong members had been refused the right to open a stall at the 2002 event on Little Bourke Street in Melbourne’s Chinatown district because the organizers feared their presence “might upset powerful friends.”

“What’s occurred in this case is that the long arm of that Beijing-based anti-religious bigotry has stretched out to Little Bourke Street,” he told the court.

Irving said the Falun Gong members were told no more space was available for stalls, but when they complained to the Equal Opportunity Commission their application was accepted. However, a day before the festival began, the Falun Gong members were again told their application was rejected, with no reasons given.

Lawyers for the Chinese associations were due to make their opening submission in court Wednesday and were not immediately available for comment.

Irving said his clients were not seeking financial compensation, but an admission of fault and an apology.

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