Hong Kong Freedoms Put to Test

AP, Aug. 15, 2002

HONG KONG (AP) – Sixteen Falun Gong followers were convicted Thursday of public obstruction for protesting against China, and government critics said an appeal by members of the meditation group could severely test Hong Kong’s freedoms.

Falun Gong members accused China of exporting mainland-style suppression to this former British colony by prosecuting practitioners who demonstrated in front of the Chinese government’s liaison office here.

But Falun Gong did not completely block the sidewalk and the defense called it a trumped-up case intended to stifle the group’s pleas that Beijing should stop trying to eradicate it in the mainland.

When Hong Kong was returned from Britain to China five years ago, Western-style freedoms of expression were guaranteed for at least 50 years under a government arrangement dubbed “one country, two systems.” But many fear those freedoms are crumbling fast.

“If the administration and police decide to embark on a case to interfere or restrict or undermine the rights of people here, the last line of defense would be the judiciary,” said Law Yuk-kai, director of the Hong Kong Human Rights Monitor, a non-governmental organization.

“So if the court gives a green light to this unscrupulous interference, I don’t think we have other avenues to address our worries,” Law said.

Many ordinary citizens in Hong Kong have little regard for Falun Gong – but experts note that people spreading unpopular viewpoints from the fringes often become the focus of important cases involving speech rights.

While Hong Kong’s government insists local freedoms are safe, frequent protests here by Falun Gong, which is outlawed in mainland China as an “evil cult,” have presented local leaders with a dilemma.

Many pro-Beijing figures have demanded a local crackdown and Hong Kong Chief Executive Tung Chee-hwa has gone so far as to call the group a “cult” without taking any steps to outlaw it.

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Religion News Blog posted this on Friday August 16, 2002.
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