HONG KONG - A senior Hong Kong government official refused to rule out a possible ban on the Falungong movement Saturday, as police confirmed that two local sect members had been attacked.
Secretary for Security Regina Ip stood by remarks she made Thursday in which she accused the sect of "pointing spears" at Beijing, and warned the security bureau was keeping a close eye on them.
"That was purely a factual statement pointing to the fact that relatively speaking we have detected that Falungong activities in Hong Kong have become more high profile," she told local radio.
"Because of the strong feelings they have against the central People's (Republic of China) government, and being the responsible authority for maintaining law and order and security there is naturally cause for concern.
So we will need to keep an eye on developments."
But she avoided a question on whether the government would effectively ban the group by revoking its registration as a religious organization.
"Whatever we do in regard to any organization or individuals we will act in accordance with the law," Ip simply said.
Hong Kong authorities are under mounting pressure from influential pro-Beijing channels to curb the Falungong or even ban the sect in the territory altogether.
Under the "one country, two systems" policy by which Hong Kong returned to China in 1997, Falungong members are free to practice in the territory, unlike on the mainland where the group was banned as an "evil cult" in July 1999.
Ip's comments on the sect, the harshest by the government so far, have been criticised by human rights groups and commentators who have urged Hong Kong Chief Executive Tung Chee-hwa to guarantee basic freedoms in the territory.
However, local media however have also criticised the Falungong for adopting a more aggressive stance following the distribution of a 22-page booklet over the past few days accusing Chinese President Jiang Zemin of being an autocrat harming his country and people.
Some observers believe the strong political language will further fuel demands for the sect to be banned in Hong Kong because of an apparent move away from its religious tenets.
Police meanwhile confirmed Saturday what is believed to be the first attack on sect members in the territory.
A 40-year-old man was arrested Friday after allegedly attacking two women handing out leaflets outside Wong Tai Sin temple. Both required hospital treatment for their injuries.
One of those attacked, Chi Lai-wa, 55, said the man slapped her in the face after she tried to give him a leaflet.
"He knocked all my leaflets to the ground, saying, 'I've had it with you (Falungong members). I always wanted to beat you.' He took out an iron bar and tried to beat me," she told local newspapers.
The man then allegedly hit another sect member in the face with the iron bar when she tried to intervene.
A police spokesman said the man had been charged with assault and was later released on bail.
A spokesman for the group, Kan Hung-cheung, told the Hong Kong iMail newspaper they "did not exclude the possibility that some people wanted to instigate public unrest through such incidents."
Falungong members, who follow the Buddhist-inspired teachings of guru Li Hongzhi, who lives in exile in the United States, insist they have no political agenda and that members are taught how to attain high moral standards and physical well-being through meditation.
HONG KONG -- It may have been too much for Beijing: Falun Gong followers gathered by the hundreds, right inside Hong Kong City Hall, accusing Chinese authorities of killing sect members on the mainland.
Speech remains free in Hong Kong, but the Chinese leadership' s drive to stamp out what it calls an " evil cult" has escalated into unprecedented pressure on Hong Kong' s government to curtail Falun Gong' s campaigning here, where the group can practice legally and has used that privilege to become a high-profile pain to Beijing.
" This is make-or-break for ' one country, two systems, " ' said opposition lawmaker Martin Lee, referring to the arrangement that permits Hong Kong considerable local autonomy under mainland China' s sovereignty.
Beijing sent the issue into uncharted territory this week when its central government liaison office in Hong Kong said Falun Gong' s alleged plots to turn Hong Kong into an outpost for subversive activities were " absolutely not allowed."
Pro-Beijing politicians and newspapers have suggested remedies that would be drastic for a free society -- outlawing Falun Gong or taking away its registration as a legal local organization.
" It' s an illegal organization in the mainland. Hong Kong should not allow its existence, " said Xu Simin, Hong Kong' s representative to the Chinese People' s Political Consultative Conference, a powerful mainland advisory body. " They don' t have the right to use Hong Kong to subvert China."
Opposition politicians, lawyers and human rights campaigners say Hong Kong' s freedoms could be facing their most critical test since the 1997 handover.
Beijing' s involvement is plainly an unprecedented and troubling demand that Hong Kong stop Falun Gong, said Law Yuk-kai, director of the Hong Kong Human Rights Monitor.
" They may have criticized the government in the past, but they never asked the government to act, " Law said. " This is the first time they' ve ordered the government to act."
Hong Kong' s No. 2 official, Chief Secretary for Administration Anson Chan, defended Falun Gong' s rights, saying the sect' s activities were permitted as long as they abided by the law.
Hong Kong Security Secretary Regina Ip noted that Falun Gong has not apparently violated any laws in Hong Kong but said the group was " increasingly high-profile" and would be closely monitored.
Falun Gong insists it is not political, although it singles out President Jiang Zemin for serious criticism and it protests or attempts to protest outside important political events.
The meditation group says it wants only to stop the persecution of its adherents. Falun Gong says 120 followers or more have died in Chinese custody and thousands have been jailed -- claims that are impossible to verify.
A local Falun Gong leader, Kan Hung-cheung, said any attacks on the group in Hong Kong would " violate the spirit of the rule of law."
" We' re a loose liaison, not a highly centralized organization, " Kan .
saidAny effort to outlaw Falun Gong could be tricky. The sect could fight back in court and create a messy situation for the government. China' s government has shown in one immigration case, though, that it is willing to go to Beijing and have a ruling from Hong Kong' s highest court thrown out.
Some suggested Hong Kong might try to hinder Falun Gong rather than shutting it down, for example by refusing to rent the group space for another conference.
ASIA BUREAU HONG KONG - A chill wind from the mainland has blown over the Falun Dafa spiritual movement this week, as pro-Beijing voices - echoed by local officials - step up the pressure on what China calls an ``evil cult.'' Hong Kong's security secretary mused out loud that local practitioners of Falun Dafa - also known as Falun Gong - are playing a political role that has prompted her officials to scrutinize their activities.
But she could cite no instances of lawbreaking, and her ominous words sparked concerns from human rights groups that Hong Kong is surrendering its autonomy by bending to Beijing's will.
``We notice that activities of the Falun Gong have become increasingly high profile recently,'' said Security Secretary Regina Ip.
``They are well-organized and their spears are pointing directly at the central government.'' Hong Kong has been considered a special autonomous region of China ever since Britain handed it back in mid-1997.
`What we're telling the public is the truth, that persecution is going on in China and it's wrong'- Sharon Xu Falun Dafa spokesperson
Foreign affairs and security remain under Beijing's authority, and there have been rumblings that Falun Dafa - banned on the mainland - was testing the limits of Chinese tolerance.
The movement, which uses traditional breathing exercises and meditation and is inspired by Buddhism, has an estimated 300-500 practitioners in Hong Kong.
On the mainland, as many as 70 million people adhered to it before the central government deemed it a threat and banned it.
Hong Kong authorities gave the group permission to hold an international conference last month. The meeting, which attracted more than 1,000 delegates and received wide media coverage, publicly criticized Beijing's harsh crackdown.
``We will keep a close watch on their activities,'' Ip told reporters. ``At this point we do not see that they have broken any laws.'' Her comments follow a clamour of anti-Falun Dafa rhetoric from pro-Beijing newspaper editorials, and politicians aligned with the mainland, who want the group's legal registration in Hong Kong to be revoked.
Tsang Hin-chi, a Hong Kong-based member of China's National People's Congress, said Falun Dafa's claim to spiritualism is a cover for anti-Beijing political activities, adding: ``The government should deregister it.'' The spectre of central government interference arose after Beijing's Liaison Office in Hong Kong said this week that the central government would never allow any group ``to turn Hong Kong into a centre for Falun Gong activities.'' Local newspapers noted Hong Kong Chief Executive Tung Chee-hwa had been warned ``through various channels'' to keep the group under control.
But legal analysts and human rights activists here have cast doubt on any attempt to ban Falun Dafa in Hong Kong, noting the courts would overrule claims it posed a threat to national security.
Sharon Xu, a practitioner and spokesperson for the group, noted its activities have been ``peaceful and orderly,'' and consisted of meditating, not demonstrating, in public.
``We have never violated the law,'' she said in an interview yesterday.
``What we're telling the public is the truth, that persecution is going on in China and it's wrong.'' New York-based Human Rights Watch also yesterday criticized the local government's conduct, saying Hong Kong should be safeguarding the territory's autonomy by protecting the right to free assembly.
HONG KONG - Two members of the Falun Gong spiritual movement were injured here in what is believed to be the first attack on the group in the territory, reports said today.
A 40-year old suspect was arrested today after allegedly attacking the women who were handing out leaflets outside a popular temple.
One of them, Chi Lai-wa, 55, told police the man slapped her in the face after she tried to give him a leaflet, the Hong Kong iMail said.
"He knocked all my leaflets to the ground, saying, 'I've had it with you (Falun Gong members). I always wanted to beat you.' He took out an iron bar and tried to beat me," the daily quoted her as saying.
The man then allegedly hit another sect member in the face with the iron bar when she tried to intervene.
Members of the group called police and chased the man until he was arrested by a passing patrol officer.
The suspect was later released on bail. He told police he attacked the sect members because they had forced him to accept their leaflets, the iMail said.
Both women were treated in hospital for their injuries.
The South China Morning Post reported witnesses as saying the group had been handing out fliers outside the Wong Tai Sin temple for the past month without problem.
The incident comes as Hong Kong authorities are under mounting pressure from influential pro-Beijing channels to curb the Falun Gong, or even ban the sect here altogether.
A spokesman for the group, Kan Hung-cheung, told the iMail they "did not exclude the possibility that some people wanted to instigate public unrest through such incidents".
HONG KONG - Falun Gong adherents in Hong Kong have stepped up their fight against Beijing with booklets condemning Chinese President Jiang Zemin as an "autocrat" acting to harm China.
This latest act of defiance by Falun Gong, which is outlawed in mainland China, is likely to attract further wrath from Beijing and pro-China figures in the territory, and put further pressure on the Hong Kong government to limit the spiritual movement's activities.
The 26-page colour booklet, carrying pictures and allegations of persecution against Falun Gong members by the Chinese authorities, has been distributed on Hong Kong streets.
"Jiang Zemin is the culprit responsible for oppressing Falun Gong," the booklet said.
It added that crackdowns on the group "comprehensively expose his (Jiang's) act to harm China and its nationals."
The group, which China labelled as an "evil cult" and banned in 1999, declined to say how many copies of the booklet had been printed.
Falun Gong remains legal in Hong Kong, which retained a high degree of autonomy after Britain handed its colony back to China in 1997.
On Thursday, Hong Kong's security chief Regina Ip said the Beijing-anointed government would closely monitor Falun Gong in the territory.
Ip's comment came just days after Beijing warned it would not allow Falun Gong to turn Hong Kong into a centre for operations or an anti-China base.
The security chief also said recent activities of the group had been targeted against Beijing.
But Kan Hung-cheung, spokesman for Falun Gong in Hong Kong, said they were trying to tell the truth about China's oppression to the territory's 6.8 million people and did not expect the Hong Kong government to outlaw them because of it.
"Hong Kong is a free society and everyone has the rights to speak out," he said. "I believe a rational and an open government would not do such silly thing."
Last month, some 1,000 Falun Gong followers from around the world held protests and a conference in Hong Kong, a move widely seen as a snub to Beijing, which has stepped up its vilification campaign against the group.
The Falun Gong spiritual movement, which promotes a mixture of Buddhism, Taoism, meditation and traditional Chinese breathing exercises, says it has millions of followers in China and has shocked the Communist Party by its persistence and ability to organise mass protests.
VANCOUVER -- On the eve of joining the Team Canada trade mission to China, B.C. Premier Ujjal Dosanjh said he's concerned about human rights but the issue is best left to Ottawa.
Dosanjh will head a B.C. business delegation of some four dozen companies and institutions as part of the massive trade junket, which leaves Feb. 9 and returns Feb. 18.
The premier said before going, he plans to meet with individuals and groups here who have raised issues about human rights in China, including the recent crackdown on the Falun Gong sect.
He said he'll pass on their concerns to Prime Minister Jean Chretien, who will the Team Canada trip.
"It is important that foreign affairs and foreign relations be conducted by the federal government," said Dosanjh. "Premiers can assist but we should respect our jurisdictions." But Dosanjh added he would speak to the Chinese if he got an opportunity.
Dosanjh's own credentials as a human-rights activist include sitting on the board of the B.C. Civil Liberties Association and speaking out against extremism within the Sikh community -- a stance that once earned him a brutal beating.
"I'm also premier of a province that has a long-standing relationship with China and I'm interested in making sure that relationship grows," he said.
"I'm sure all of the issues will be raised to the extent possible.
"Business is important. Human rights are important too." Economic reforms offer plenty of opportunities for B.C. business in China in areas such as environmental and information technologies, education and mining, Dosanjh said.
China is British Columbia's third-largest export market, behind the United States and Japan.
The province's exports to China, including Hong Kong, totalled $914 million for the first 11 months of last year, an increase of 24.5 per cent over the same period in 1999.
The presence of Chinese immigrants on the West Coast for more than 150 years "adds impetus and more importance to the relationship that exists," the premier said.
Dosanjh said there are indications several deals could be signed but declined to be specific, saying, "deals are only deals when they are signed and materialize."
HONG KONG - Rights groups Friday urged Chief Executive Tung Chee-hwa to show his hand and guarantee basic freedoms in Hong Kong amid fears he could move to ban the Falungong sect.
The US-based Human Rights Watch voiced concern at intensified pressure from Beijing for action to be taken to curb the spiritual movement's activities in Hong Kong or even follow China and ban it all together.
"Falungong is legally registered under the Societies Ordinance in Hong Kong, has broken no laws, and has done nothing that could remotely be considered a public disturbance," Human Rights Watch said in a statement.
"That Beijing could even think of pressing Hong Kong to move against the group is ominous." said Sidney Jones, Asia director of Human Rights Watch in New York.
"This kind of statement should have prompted an immediate rejoinder from C.H.Tung and yet all we've heard is deafening silence."
Secretary for Security Regina Ip admitted on Thursday that although the spiritual group had become increasingly high profile in targetting the central government in Beijing, they had not committed any crime.
But she vowed the security bureau would keep a close eye on the group.
The pressure on Hong Kong -- which returned to Chinese rule in 1997 -- comes as Beijing has stepped up a propaganda assault against the group which it banned in July 1999 as an "evil cult."
Mainland newspapers and televisions were flooded this week with images of five alleged Falungong members setting themselves alight on Tiananmen Square.
The Falungong, which combines traditional breathing exercises with meditation and Buddhist-inspired teachings, has denied they were sect members.
"We will never know the truth of this incident until an independent, third party investigation is carried out by international press and human rights groups," said a statement from the Falundafa Information Centre on Friday.
"Until then the public is at the mercy of the fabrications of the Chinese regime."
Local media have reported that Tung has come under pressure "through various channels" to consider implementing proposed anti-subversion laws to target the Falungong.
But he has not commented on the issue or on the calls from local pro-China businessmen and politicians for the group to lose its registered status in Hong Kong, which would effectively outlaw it here.
Local legislators urged Tung to speak out on the matter when he attends next week's Legislative Council question time.
Tung should "take a stand," said Jan Van der Made a local spokesman for the Human Rights Watch.
He should "say freedom of assembly is guaranteed in Hong Kong ... and that those that exercise their rights of assembly should not be subject to pressure from Beijing," Van der Made added.
BEIJING - The Chinese city of Kaifeng, home to five people thought to be Falun Gong members who attempted a fiery group suicide last week, has issued a postmark denouncing the banned sect, state radio has said.
Central People's Broadcasting Station said on Friday the central post office in the northern city was crowded with citizens carrying postcards and letters they wanted stamped with the postmark which reads: "The people of Kaifeng strongly condemn the cruelty of Falun Gong".
The postal attack on Falun Gong is he latest element in a propaganda blitz against the spiritual group over the suicide attempt by five suspected followers on January 23, the eve of Chinese New Year.
China's state media said five people, including a 12-year-old girl, doused themselves in petrol and set fire to themselves in Beijing's Tiananmen Square. One woman, the girl's mother, died.
Spokespeople for Falun Gong, banned by China in July 1999 and branded an "evil cult", maintain that the five were not members of the spiritual movement which combines Eastern philosophies, mysticism and traditional Chinese breathing exercises.
HONG KONG - Amid increasing pressure from pro-Beijing forces, a top Hong Kong official said Thursday the Falun Gong meditation sect is targeting China's government and authorities here will keep a closer eye on the group.
``We'll monitor their action very closely,'' Security Secretary Regina Ip said, two days after China's local representative office here warned that Falun Gong cannot be allowed to turn Hong Kong into a subversive base.
``We have noticed that Falun Gong has become increasingly high-profile, and is a very organized group,'' Ip said. ``Their spearhead is targeted at our central government.''
Ip did not elaborate, but her language echoed criticism of Falun Gong this week by local pro-Beijing newspapers and China's local representative office.
Falun Gong spokesman Kan Hung-Cheung said Hong Kong appears to be under pressure from Chinese President Jiang Zemin.
``The pressure is higher and higher, and Hong Kong will have to take some measures,'' Kan said. He declined to predict what will happen, though local newspapers have been raising questions about whether Hong Kong might rescind Falun Gong's registration as a local organization.
Falun Gong is outlawed in mainland China and subjected to an often-violent crackdown by officials who have branded the group an ``evil cult.''
But Falun Gong remains legal in Hong Kong, which retained many Western-style freedoms after Britain returned the territory to China in 1997.
Hong Kong officials allowed Falun Gong to rent space in City Hall last month for an international conference where followers demanded the right to practice freely on the mainland and urged an end to the official brutality that the sect says has led to the deaths of at least 120 followers in custody.
Falun Gong says thousands more adherents have been locked up - claims that cannot be verified.
Pro-Beijing forces were livid, with newspapers and local figures allied to the mainland leadership mounting a fierce war of words against Falun Gong.
Falun Gong spokesman Kan said Jiang ``has to be responsible for the suppression, but his personal stance doesn't represent the whole of the central government.''
A top official yesterday accused the Falun Gong in Hong Kong of having their ``spears'' pointed directly at the Central Government.
The remark by Secretary for Security Regina Ip Lau Suk-yee signalled a tougher stance by the government toward the sect - and came amid renewed calls from pro-Beijing figures for it to be curbed.
Local National People's Congress (NPC) members also plan to take the issue to the next session of the NPC Standing Committee.
Speaking at a spring reception held by the Chinese General Chamber of Commerce, Mrs Ip said the government had noted that Falun Gong's recent activities in Hong Kong had become much more high-profile. ``They are well organised and their spears are pointing directly at the Central Government,'' she said.
Mrs Ip's tone was markedly tougher than that of outgoing Chief Secretary for Administration Anson Chan Fang On-sang who said a day earlier that the qigong sect would not be banned as long as its activities were legal.
The change followed sustained pressure from Beijing and the Central Government Liaison Office in Hong Kong. It came two days after an unidentified spokesman for the liaison office warned the sect not to use Hong Kong as an ``anti-China base''.
Mrs Ip said Hong Kong was a place ruled by law and the government would treat all organisations in accordance with the law. ``We will pay close attention to [the Falun Gong's] future activities,'' she said.
At the same function, Executive Council convenor Leung Chun-ying said the public should consider whether or not the sect's activities were legal rather than speculating on the meaning of the Liaison Office's strong statement.
Mr Leung said it was difficult to say clearly whether the sect had violated Hong Kong laws, and the government would treat it in the spirit of the rule of law. Chief Executive Tung Chee-hwa and Mrs Chan, who also attended the reception, refused to make any comment.
NPC local deputy Tsang Hin-chi, a Standing Committee member, called on the government to withdraw the sect's registration under the Societies Ordinance, on the grounds that it had departed from its stated nature of a religious group.
``I think the Falun Gong has changed its nature, its ideology is different from that when it was registered,'' Mr Tsang said.
Whether or not it had violated the ordinance was for the courts to decide, ``but it is not in the interests of the SAR or the country if the sect turns Hong Kong into a base to subvert China'', he said. ``It claims that it is not a political body, but in fact it is a political body confronting the motherland.'' Mr Tsang said he would study whether the sect had violated the Societies Ordinance and submit a list at this month's Standing Committee meeting of activities that could prove it was an anti-China body. He expected the issue to be studied at the NPC plenary session next month.
However, Mr Tsang did not think that the Central Government would enact a state law to ban the sect and then apply it to Hong Kong through Article 18 and Annex III of the Basic Law.
Hong Kong NPC members are expected to discuss the issue at their regular meeting this month before attending next month's plenary session in Beijing.
The Security Bureau has listed two criteria under which the Commissioner of Police can recommend to the Secretary for Security that the operations of a group registered under the Societies Ordinance be banned: If there is reason to believe deregistering the society will help maintain national security or public security or public order.
If the society is a political organisation with connections to overseas political groups or Taiwanese political organisations.
What Is Falun Gong? See "Falun Gong 101", by Massimo Introvigne
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