Nov. 10 (Bloomberg) — Hong Kong’s Court of Appeal overturned obstruction convictions against a group of Falun Gong followers who demonstrated outside China’s de facto embassy in the city almost three years ago.
”The unanimous decision of the court is a welcome reminder that the right to demonstrate and the right of peaceful assembly as set out in Hong Kong’s Basic Law are not empty slogans,” Hong Kong Human Rights Monitor said a statement released after the court’s decision.
The case involved 16 Falun Gong members, including four Swiss nationals, a New Zealander and 11 Hong Kong residents, who were convicted of obstruction in August 2002 in the first criminal prosecution of the group’s followers in the former British colony. They were fined from $167 to $487.
China in 1999 outlawed the Falun Gong as an evil cult in the mainland after a mass gathering of some 10,000 followers in Beijing. Since then, Falun Gong members allege thousands of followers have died in Chinese prison camps, many of them tortured to death.
Falun Gong members demonstrated outside the Central People’s Government Liaison Office in Hong Kong on March 14, 2002, to draw attention to China’s crackdown on the group. The 16 were arrested after they ignored warnings from police to move away from the front of the building. A scuffle ensued.
Nine of the accused, all Hong Kong residents, also were convicted of the more serious charge of obstructing police, an offense that carries a maximum penalty of up to two years in jail. Three of them were also convicted of assaulting a police officer. The status on those convictions weren’t specified in the Human Rights Monitor statement.