HONG KONG (AP) — A defense lawyer challenged the convictions of 16 Falun Gong followers before a Hong Kong court Thursday, saying their protest outside Chinese government offices was legal because it didn’t cause undue obstruction.
“The obstruction in this case doesn’t come anywhere near the threshold where the demonstration becomes unreasonable,” lawyer Paul Harris told a panel of three judges Thursday.
Harris represents five of the 16 Falun Gong practitioners fined for allegedly obstructing a public place during a March 14, 2002, sit-in outside the Chinese government’s liaison office.
The followers — four Swiss citizens, a New Zealander and 11 from Hong Kong — were protesting China’s suppression of the meditation group.
Banned in the mainland as an “evil cult,” Falun Gong remains legal in this former British colony, which reverted to Chinese rule in 1997.
Under an arrangement that allows the territory considerable autonomy, Hong Kong enjoys civil liberties typically denied in the mainland.
But Falun Gong members say the current legal case — the first-ever criminal case brought against followers here — shows the crackdown has extended to Hong Kong.
Three of the Hong Kong protesters were also convicted of assaulting police in a scuffle that broke out when officers removed them.
Nine of the protesters, including the New Zealander, were convicted of obstructing police. They also are appealing that charge.
The three-day appeal hearing began Wednesday.
Harris also argued Thursday that police did not detail who was obstructed and how they were blocked.