Hong Kong Falun Gong members protest detention of followers

HONG KONG (AP) — About 50 Falun Gong followers rallied on Monday, accusing China of pressuring the French government to suppress the group before and during Chinese President Hu Jintao’s visit last week.

The protesters submitted a letter addressed to French President Jacques Chirac demanding an investigation and a public apology for the brief arrests of at least 30 Falun Gong members in Paris from Jan. 24-27.

They claimed the crackdown was aimed at appeasing China before and during Hu’s four-day visit to France, which began Jan. 26. The detainees — from France, Britain, Germany, Taiwan, Norway, Finland and Sweden — were released hours after they were arrested.

“The police arrested Falun Gong members for no reason. They weren’t doing anything apart from walking on the streets,” said Kan Hung-cheung, a Hong Kong-based Falun Gong spokesman.

Kan alleged the practitioners, who were to attend a Falun Gong parade in France, were detained for simply wearing the group’s yellow T-shirts or scarves. Some were handcuffed to benches for hours, he said.

“This is inconceivable and simply illegal,” the protesters wrote in the letter to Chirac, demanding a thorough investigation into the arrests and a public apology from the French government.

Francois Fensterbank, a spokesman for the French Consulate General in Hong Kong, said he received the letter and would forward it to his government. He declined to comment on the arrest allegations.

In a copy of the letter obtained by The Associated Press, the protesters claimed that Chinese officials pressured France to suppress the group to “secure a friendly business partnership” with China. It didn’t give further details.

Falun Gong — outlawed in mainland China in 1999 as an evil cult — was earlier banned from a Chinese New Year parade organized by the French government to celebrate the Chinese New Year in Paris. But they held their own celebration anyway.

Despite the ban in the mainland, Falun Gong remains legal in Hong Kong, a former British colony that returned to Chinese rule in 1997 but retains much legal autonomy.

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