Reuters, Aug. 7, 2002
HONG KONG (Reuters) – Sixteen Falun Gong followers, on trial for public obstruction, had the right to stage a protest outside China’s main office in Hong Kong, a defence lawyer said on Wednesday.
“This place is a public place and Hong Kong people have the right to demonstrate in a public place,” lawyer John Haynes told a court in the territory’s first trial of members of the controversial spiritual movement.
Though banned in mainland China, Falun Gong is legal in Hong Kong, which was promised a high degree of autonomy when it returned to Chinese rule on July 1, 1997.
The local government’s decision to prosecute the 16, who include four Swiss nationals, has raised questions about freedoms in the territory five years into Chinese rule.
The 16 were charged with causing a public obstruction during a protest outside Beijing’s main representative office in Hong Kong on March 14.
They were also charged with potentially causing public obstruction by unfurling a banner with the words “(Chinese President) Jiang Zemin, Stop Killing”.
Nine also face a third charge of wilfully obstructing police when they were forcibly removed by officers during the protest. Three of the 16 have also been charged with assaulting police officers.
All pleaded not guilty to the charges.