Singapore's Minister for Home Affairs insisted yesterday that 15 Falun Gong practitioners arrested for holding an illegal demonstration were clearly in breach of the law.
Wong Kan Seng said, however, that there was no need to circumscribe the group's activities in the city-state provided that events organised by the local society in future conformed with Singapore's regulations.
In response to questions raised in Parliament about the arrests, Mr Wong said: "The key point was that in this case no application was made for a permit and the police went there to clarify that with the group, and therefore they breached the law, so that's the basic point."
On New Year's Eve, up to 80 Falun Gong followers gathered in a park to protest against alleged deaths of fellow members in Chinese prisons and police stations. The 15 who refused to disperse were arrested and charged with holding an illegal gathering and obstructing police officers.
Under Singapore law, all groups must obtain a permit to hold a gathering of more than five people. Police have said that no permit had been issued to the protesters, whose actions were not endorsed or supported by the local Falun Gong society.
"As with all other registered societies, the Falun Buddha Society can carry out its activities as long as such activities do not contravene any of our laws," Mr Wong said.
The Falun Gong movement has been banned by Beijing, which regards it as an evil cult. Mainland authorities have cracked down on its followers, arresting many members. Human rights groups say that some of them have died while in police custody.
In Singapore, the crime of obstructing a policeman carries a maximum jail sentence of three months and a maximum fine of S$500 (HK$2,200). The unlawful assembly charge also carries a maximum three-month jail term, and a maximum fine of S$5,000.
"Falun Gong Protests in Hong Kong, Defying China"
HONG KONG - Defying vehement criticism from Beijing, about 900 Falun Gong followers from around the world protested in Hong Kong on Saturday against China's crackdown on the movement.
But immigration authorities barred the entry of 12 overseas Chinese adherents who were to attend the meeting in the former British colony, now a "special administrative region" of China, a human rights group said.
Some 900 practitioners, about half from overseas, kicked off a two-day gathering with a mass exercise in a public park, their largest in Hong Kong since Beijing began its crackdown on Falun Gong in July 1999.
Dressed in uniform-style yellow tee-shirts, the group sat silently meditating for an hour to the sound of soft music playing through loudspeakers.
They then marched silently to Beijing's Liaison Office in Hong Kong, holdings placards which read "Stop Persecuting Falun Gong." Police presence was light.
Leading the procession were 120 people dressed in white -- a mourning color for Chinese -- and holding photographs of 120 Falun Gong adherents that the group claimed had died of torture during custody in mainland China.
Falun Gong is a mixture of Taoism, Buddhism and traditional Chinese physical exercises.
Mainland China has outlawed the movement which it labels an "evil cult." But Falun Gong is legal in Hong Kong.
TWELVE BARRED FROM HONG KONG
"It was a shock to me when I heard about the ban," said Adam Montanaro, who flew in from New York to attend the conference. "I think it is very brave of the Hong Kong government to host an event like this."
The Hong Kong-based Information Center for Human Rights and Democracy said in a statement in Beijing that Hong Kong had barred the entry of 12 overseas Chinese followers.
Seven were from Japan, three from Australia and two from the United States, it said. Most were detained on Friday.
An Australian resident and a U.S. resident had already been put on aircraft home on Saturday morning but the rest were still being held, the group said.
It said authorities had given no explanation for the action and were preparing to deport the rest. The Immigration Department said it would not comment on individual cases.
"The high profile refusal of entry for Falun Gong practitioners shows the Hong Kong government is feeling pressure from Beijing," the human rights group said.
Sophie Xiao, a Falun Gong spokeswoman in Hong Kong, said the adherents believed those held had been detained or arrested in China before and had been blacklisted by Chinese authorities.
Pro-democracy legislator Emily Lau expressed concern over the reported detentions.
"If there are no good reasons, then I think it should be a source of very deep concern. Is Hong Kong going to abandon the practice that we used to adopt? Are we introducing new rules of the game whereby the freedoms that the people enjoy will be increasingly curbed?" Lau said.
The Hong Kong government has not appeared to put pressure on Falun Gong in the past.
"Organizations in Hong Kong can continue their operation as long as they abide by the laws," the administration said in a statement on Saturday.
On Friday, China's official Xinhua news agency said the "notorious cult" was responsible for the deaths of 17 people in the northern region of Inner Mongolia.
A Chinese official lashed out at the Hong Kong rally and accused organizers of having political motives.
"I think their behavior in Hong Kong will show the people in Hong Kong that they are the group that will bring great harm to the security and public order of Hong Kong," Liu Xiaoming, a spokesman for the Chinese embassy in Washington, told CNN.
Apart from Hong Kong, the demonstrators came from countries including China, the United States, Australia, Britain, Taiwan, Vietnam, Canada, France, Germany, Belgium, Sweden and Denmark.
HONG KONG - Falun Gong practitioners from Hong Kong charged Chinese President Jiang Zemin with slander and the attempt to eradicate their movement at an international rally on Saturday.
The group also expressed fears that the Hong Kong government has tightened control of their Buddhist-oriented meditation practice under pressure from China. At least 12 overseas adherents were denied entry to the territory to attend the two-day gathering.
About 800 practitioners from Hong Kong and 20 countries petitioned the Liaison Office of the central Chinese government after staging a rally in a park, urging Beijing to stop persecuting their fellow Chinese members and to free all who have been arrested.
''We call on the Chinese leaders to acknowledge the persecution of Falun Gong members and to end this brutal crackdown launched by Jiang Zemin and his followers,'' a spokesman of the Hong Kong practitioners, Kan Hung-cheung, said.
''Jiang Zemin is not the equivalent of the Chinese government. With his serious violation of the Constitution and laws, Jiang has already lost his right to lead a nation,'' Kan read from a statement issued by the Hong Kong members.
''What Falun Gong practitioners are protesting is his criminal act and has absolutely nothing to do with 'overthrowing the (Chinese) government,'' added Kan, who was recently singled out as a ''core member of the evil cult'' by the official Chinese Xinhua News Agency.
China labeled the Falun Gong movement an ''evil cult'' and outlawed it in 1999.
Movement followers claimed more than 50,000 mainland Chinese adherents have been arrested and about 119 members have been tortured to death so far.
Hong Kong, a special administrative region of China, allows the adherents to practice their beliefs as long as they obey the law.
But the practitioners on Saturday accused the Hong Kong authorities of forcibly detaining and expelling 12 followers, from Australia, Japan and the United States, who were refused entry at the territory's international airport.
In a telephone call, one of the Australian members, Zhang Cuiying, told members attending the rally that immigration officers grabbed her by the hair and clothes and forced her to leave.
In response, Hong Kong's Immigration Department said it does not comment on individual cases.
Falun Gong members said they hope the Hong Kong government will not behave like Macao's authorities, who took heavy-handed measures against practitioners who tried to petition Jiang when he attended the enclave's first anniversary of reunion with China last December.
Macao police denied entry to about 30 movement adherents at the time and forcibly removed practitioners from their practicing venue in the enclave.
In his speech at the anniversary celebration, Jiang instructed Macao to prevent anyone from taking actions against Beijing or ''splitting'' the country.
Since this month, Chinese media and pro-Beijing newspapers in Hong Kong have stepped up rhetoric against the Falun Gong group.
HONG KONG - In a demonstration likely to infuriate Beijing, hundreds of Falun Gong followers marched on a Chinese government building here Saturday behind women in funeral colors to protest alleged torture-killings of adherents by mainland police.
Falun Gong members from around the world have gathered in Hong Kong, right on mainland China's doorstep, for a weekend of public events to air their grievances about Beijing's supression of the meditation sect.
``There are people dying - the numbers are rising,'' said Sophie Xiao, a Hong Kong spokeswoman for Falun Gong. ``In September, it was 50 reported deaths, and now it's 120. It's time to stop all this.''
After walking Saturday to the Chinese government's liaison office, the sect's followers planned to reconvene Sunday for an international conference, which Hong Kong authorities have allowed to be held in the city hall - much to the consternation of pro-Beijing forces who have escalated their war of words against the ``evil cult.''
China has conducted a heavy crackdown on Falun Gong since banning it in 1999. But the meditation sect has frustrated the government by persisting with demonstrations - which mainland police routinely put down, rounding up and beating practitioners.
In Hong Kong, this weekend's gatherings are likely particularly grating to the Beijing authorities. The special enclave, under British rule until 1997, is under Chinese sovereignty but has autonomy. And Falun Gong remains legal.
Early Saturday morning, some 800 Falun Gong followers - including members from North America, Europe, Australia and Asia - stood in formation in a park to make the Chinese characters for ``truthfulness, benevolence and forbearance,'' the slogan many wear on the back of their customary yellow T-shirts.
``It really touches your heart to see this in China, the only place left in China,'' said Caroline Lam, from a Hong Kong family that moved to Sydney, Australia, over worries about what would happen after China reclaimed Hong Kong from Britain.
Numerous television news crews, and Hong Kong police, turned out early Saturday to videotape Falun Gong followers as they performed their slow-moving meditation exercises to the mellow sounds of recorded Chinese music.
Later, the practitioners marched to the Chinese government liaison office behind 120 women dressed in white, the Chinese funeral color - one for each follower Falun Gong says has been killed. The gates to the building were locked, but followers placed 10 petitions to Chinese Premier Zhu Rongji and the mainland police on the ground outside.
Although it is impossible to verify all of Falun Gong's claims about abuse and death at the hands of Chinese authorities, Beijing is fighting hard to stamp out the group that follows the teachings of exiled master Li Hongzhi.
``Regardless of how much they torture practitioners and how much they denigrate Falun Gong and Mr. Li, we will only be compassionate and truthful,'' said Robert Calloway, from Atlanta. ``It's going to change the whole world.''
Falun Gong complained that 12 followers were stopped at the Hong Kong airport, including two Australian passport holders, seven residents of Japan and two or three U.S. residents.
At a news conference, a mobile phone was connected to a microphone and reporters could hear a woman, identified as Zhang Cui-ying from Sydney, saying she was at the airport being deported.
Falun Gong spokeswoman Hui Yee-han said Zhang was jailed for months in China and had planned to discuss it Sunday, so ``maybe that's the reason she was denied entry.''
Hong Kong's Immigration Department said it would not comment on individual cases.
A local pro-Beijing daily newspaper, Ta Kung Pao, came out against the Hong Kong gathering, saying in an editorial: ``It is not known why the group is allowed to rent City Hall to host the conference.''
``The public are concerned and even feel worried,'' the editorial said. ``Will Hong Kong be used as a center for hosting Falun Gong activities? Will it become a base for anti-Chinese forces to subvert the Chinese government?''
Passersby seemed unconcerned.
``They should be allowed to practice as this is a basic human right and freedom,'' said Li Sen, a 15-year-old student. ``I can't accept that the police in mainland China arrest them and beat them.''
Three female Falun Gong members have died after severe beatings or force-feeding by police, a human rights group has alleged. Liu Guimin, 30, is believed to have died as a result of force-feeding by police while she was on a hunger strike in jail following arrest during a New Year's Day protest in Tiananmen Square.
The second victim, Chu Congrui, 30, died last month at a police station in Beijing. The Jilin native was arrested while protesting in the square on December 1.
The third victim, Yu Lianchun, from Shandong's Jinan, was also beaten to death, the centre said.
"China urges media war on Falun Gong before HK meet"
BEIJING - China's propaganda chief has ordered the media to continue a campaign to vilify the Falun Gong spiritual organisation, the People's Daily said on Friday, as the group prepares a weekend of mass meetings in Hong Kong.
China faced a "long-term and arduous" struggle against the group, the newspaper quoted Ding Guangen, head of the Communist Party's Publicity Department, as saying.
"Efforts should be made to expose the political nature and the danger that the cult poses to the society and help the general public improve their consciousness of resisting the cult and safeguarding social stability," he said.
China banned Falun Gong in July 1999, calling it an "evil cult" which brainwashed and cheated its followers, but the group has staged almost daily protests demanding official recognition as a religion ever since.
On Saturday, the group will stage a rally in Hong Kong, where it is legal, to urge Chinese President Jiang Zemin to halt the crackdown.
And on Sunday, it will hold an international conference in the former British colony promised a high degree of autonomy when it reverted to Chinese rule in 1997.
Chinese media have published a barrage of criticism of the group and its exiled leader Li Hongzhi this week, accusing them of being a "cheap tool" of Western forces trying to topple the Communist Party.
But group members in Hong Kong have rejected the charges and vowed to press ahead with the weekend events.
"All the accusations made by the Chinese government against Falun Gong are groundless," Kan Hung-cheung, chairman of the Hong Kong Association of Falun Dafa, said on Tuesday.
"We've stepped out to complain only because the Chinese government is launching a crackdown. To complain is a basic human right. There is no issue of subversion of China's power or a tool of Western hostile forces," Kan said.
China's official Xinhua news agency singled out Kan for criticism last week, calling him "a core member of the evil cult."
Falun Gong, also known as Falun Dafa, is a mixture of Taoism, Buddhism and traditional Chinese physical exercises.
The group says some 50,000 members have been detained and many sent to labour camps without trial since Beijing banned it in July 1999. Rights groups say around 90 adherents have died while in detention on mainland China.
Beijing has accused Falun Gong of being in league with a whole range of dissident forces, including separatists in the western regions of Tibet and Xinjiang, supporters of Taiwan independence and Chinese democracy activists.
Li denies having any political agenda.
But in a January 1 message posted on the group's official Website (www.clearwisdom.net), Li appeared to urge his followers to take more drastic action by telling them they could rightfully go beyond the movement's principle virtue of forbearance.
Until now protesters have rarely resisted detention, arrest or beatings by police and have even expressed sympathy with their captors, citing their belief in forbearance.
HONG KONG - Members of the Falun Gong spiritual movement in Hong Kong will this weekend hold defiant meetings and protests against China's crackdown on their group.
Communist China has outlawed the group, which blends Taoism, Buddhism and traditional Chinese exercises, and condemns it as an "evil cult."
But the group is legal in Hong Kong, which has retained a decree of autonomy after reverting to Chinese rule in 1997.
Falun Gong members see Hong Kong as a safe haven on the shore of China, where they can make their voices heard without fear of imprisonment. But some analysts said Beijing may see the Hong Kong protests as pure provocation.
"We don't want (Chinese President) Jiang Zemin's crackdown on Falun Gong to be implemented in Hong Kong," said Kan Hung-cheung, chairman of the Hong Kong Association of Falun Dafa.
Kan expects up to 1,000 practitioners of Falun Gong, or Falun Dafa as it is also known, from Hong Kong and abroad to join the weekend of marches, rallies and seminars.
Asked about fears of provoking China, a government spokeswoman said groups could operate in Hong Kong as long as they abided by the law.
"Activities which are legal may continue. If there are any illegal activities, our security agencies will take enforcement action," she said.
CONCERN OVER DISRUPTION
Some Falun Gong members have expressed fears that their events might be disrupted.
"We are worried that those who support the crackdown launched by Jiang Zemin and others may disrupt our events," said Kan.
China's official Xinhua news agency last week singled out Kan for criticism as "a core member of the evil cult."
His association is organising a series of high-profile activities to protest against Beijing's crackdown and the imprisonment of its members.
On Saturday there will be a public exercise session, an assembly, a march, and a demonstration outside the Chinese government's Liaison Office where members will try to submit a petition.
On Sunday, Falun Gong will hold a conference at a city centre building owned by the Hong Kong government.
Political commentators said Falun Gong members in Hong Kong believe that Beijing would not dare to move against it in the territory.
"They are continuing to articulate their grievances. Outside of mainland China, the activities focus on Hong Kong, Taiwan and Macau," politics professor Joseph Cheng at the City University said.
"Of course the most important of them is Hong Kong, where it is easiest to reach the international media and overseas Chinese communities," he said.
He expected China to step up criticism of Hong Kong Falun Gong practitioners but said there was little Beijing could do against the group in Hong Kong.
BEIJING - China's Communist Party has ordered redoubled efforts to expose and attack the outlawed Falun Gong sect, days before followers of the group gather in Chinese-ruled Hong Kong.
``Thoroughly criticize the Falun Gong cult's political nature and threat to society, and the broad masses will increase their resistance to the threat of cults,'' Propaganda Minister Ding Guangen told heads of government propaganda departments.
``They must fully recognize the duration, complexity and ferocity of our battle with Falun Gong,'' Ding said in the speech, carried Friday in the Communist Party newspaper People's Daily.
Frustrated by Falun Gong's defiance of an 18-month crackdown, China's government has recently stepped up its rhetoric against the spiritual group. China's wholly state-run media accused Falun Gong of conspiring with anti-Chinese forces in the West as well as separatists in Taiwan and Tibet.
If anything, Falun Gong's resistance may be increasing, with state media last week making the rare disclosure that hundreds of followers have protested on Beijing's Tiananmen Square each day since December.
The renewed government campaign comes as 1,000 Falun Gong followers gather for a rally and conference this weekend in the former British colony of Hong Kong, where the sect remains legal despite being banned elsewhere in China.
On Friday, the state-run Beijing Daily accused Falun Gong founder Li Hongzhi, a former government grain clerk living in the United States, of trying to disrupt social order and overthrow communism ``in the name of so-called democracy and human rights.''
``There's a lot of slander on our Master Li,'' said Hui Yee-han, a Falun Gong spokeswoman in Hong Kong. ``There's nothing new, but it's becoming more apparent.''
On Wednesday, state-run China Central Television showed unusual footage of Falun Gong members protesting in Tiananmen Square in an apparent attempt to control how the public views the blatant acts of defiance in the nation's most sacred political space.
The TV showed interviews with people it identified as detained Falun Gong followers at a police station near the square, who claimed they were ``aliens'' and ``divine beings.'' It also said several had attempted suicide after arrest.
Not shown were the beatings police regularly dish out to group members when arresting them.
Falun Gong attracted millions of followers in China during the 1990s with a mix of meditation, slow-motion exercises and a hybrid philosophy drawn from Taoism, Buddhism and the ideas of founder Li.
China banned the group as a public menace and threat to party rule and has accused it of misleading followers and causing 1,600 deaths, mainly among believers who sought spiritual healing rather than modern medical treatment.
What Is Falun Gong? See "Falun Gong 101", by Massimo Introvigne
FALUN GONG UPDATES
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