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HK prosecutes Falun Gong

Swiss Falun Gong arrest
Swiss national Roland Isenschmid is taken away by police  

HONG KONG, China -- A group of followers of the Falun Gong religious sect has been put on trial in Hong Kong in connection with a sidewalk protest.

Sixteen followers of the movement -- including four Swiss nationals -- are facing trial over a sidewalk protest that turned violent in March outside a government building in Hong Kong.

During the first day of the high-profile trial, prosecutors accused six of the Falun Gong followers of obstructing police who tried to disperse them from the entrance of the Chinese government's liaison office on March 14.

In his opening statement, prosecutor Robert Lee said the police repeatedly asked the demonstrators to move away from the entrance of the liaison office.

But a scuffle broke out after the protesters allegedly wrestled with the police officers that tried to break up the demonstration.

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    Four of the protesters are accused of assaulting police officers. The clash caused minor injuries to seven officers and nine demonstrators, the prosecutor said.

    All 16 participants in the demonstration are also charged with two counts of the lesser offense of obstructing the public, for which they could face three months in prison or a fine of HK$500 ($64).

    But three of the demonstrators are charged with obstruction, which carries a maximum penalty of two years in prison.


    The Falun Gong followers, who pleaded not guilty to the charges, said they were confident of winning their case.

    It was impossible to believe that "our small, polite and peaceful appeal" had run afoul in a civilized society like Hong Kong, Swiss national Erich Bachmann was quoted by the Associated Press news agency as saying.

    "Hong Kong, with its tradition of human rights, should be an example for human rights, law, freedom of speech and freedom of assembly and freedom of belief," Bachmann added.

    Beijing Falun Gong protest
    Falungong practitioner Lau Yuk-Ling (C) carries a portrait of her son who was allegedly arrested by police in Beijing  

    But the case-- the first criminal trial against the group in the territory-- has raised concerns that the 'one country, two systems' policy is eroding, and that Hong Kong is beginning to yield to pressures from the mainland.

    Falun Gong is a spiritual group that combines meditation with Buddhist-inspired teachings.

    The movement is legal in the former British colony but is banned in mainland China as an 'evil cult.'

    But Hong Kong officials deny that they are cracking down on the group, and insist they are merely trying to maintain public order.

    The Swiss Falun Gong followers said they had sought to travel to Beijing to make an appeal to Chinese officials against the brutal crackdown against Falun Gong practitioners.

    But they were refused entry to mainland China so they demonstrated in Hong Kong instead.

    The Falun Gong alleges that many of its followers have been jailed or sent to labor camps, and that as many as 300 of the group's followers have died in police detention since it was banned by China in July 1999.




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