Financial Times, Aug. 16, 2002
By Rahul Jacob in Hong Kong
A Hong Kong court yesterday found 16 Falun Gong members guilty of “public obstruction” in a widely watched case that many observers said marked a hardening of the local government’s stance against the spiritual group.
The Falun Gong is outlawed in mainland China, but legal in Hong Kong. The local government’s security bureau said the 16 demonstrators had obstructed the passage of pedestrians on a pavement and denied that the religious faith of the demonstrators had anything to do with the decision to prosecute them.
Human rights activists said the claim that as few as 16 people were guilty of obstruction on a wide city pavement was absurd. The demonstration outside China’s main representative office in Hong Kong occurred in March.
“They were exercising their freedom of assembly, but the government is using another law to charge them and make trouble for protesters. The court should have taken a tolerant view,” said Ho Hei-wah, the head of a group of non-governmental associations.
Mr Ho said that Falun Gong members in Hong Kong were fewer than five hundred and that their numbers were declining.
The court fined each of the defendants less than HK$3,800 (US$487, €497), well below the maximum punishment for the offence, which could have included a term in jail.
Falun Gong members have complained that some of their group have been barred from entering Hong Kong and allege that the local government has been using a blacklist to keep out foreign members of the group.
In the past, the Hong Kong government has allowed their meetings at government halls that were rented for the purpose.
There has been rising concern among human rights activists that the government will soon legislate anti-subversion laws that could eventually be used against groups like the Falun Gong, being targeted by Beijing.