The French National Assembly overnight (HK time) adopted a bill to crack down on sects that lawmakers say is being studied by the SAR Government with a view to possible action against the Falun Gong.
Earlier this month, Chief Secretary for Administration Donald Tsang Yam-kuen admitted the Government was studying overseas legislation on cults without specifying which countries' laws.
''A responsible government has to consider cautiously all the options available. We have to make ourselves well-prepared and not be all in a fluster when matters arise,'' Mr Tsang said.
Legislator Margaret Ng Ngoi-yee denounced his comments and asked the Government if it were using the French plan as ''a legal cloak for religious persecution''.
In France, the new law met stiff opposition and a controversial proposal to make ''mental manipulation'' a criminal offence and part of the new legislation was dropped overnight following protests by minority religious groups.
The new law will allow courts to ban groups regarded as sects. It stipulates that banned groups which re-form under a different name can face prosecution.
It also provides for sects, as well as individual members, to be punished for fraud, illegal practice of medicine, wrongful advertising or sexual abuse.
The bill, and especially the article on ''mental manipulation'', or brainwashing, sparked an outcry from several groups when it first went before the French parliament in June 2000.
A spokeswoman for the Church of Scientology, which is under close scrutiny by the French authorities, said at the time that the bill would ''sound the death knell for French democracy''.
Reverend Sun Myung Moon's Unification Church was among other groups that denounced the bill as anti-democratic and in breach of basic human rights.
The brainwashing clause was eventually dropped after an official consultative human rights body as well as then-justice minister Elisabeth Guigou also criticised it.
The bill was devised in response to a report in February 2000 by a ministerial mission that found there were 200 sects in France, most of them well-organised.
Ms Ng on Thursday welcomed the rejection of the mental manipulation clause, and said the fact that the law was passed should not mean that the Government should adopt it for the SAR, which is does may not share the same problems as France.
''Any attempt to borrow from the example of France is utterly wrong,'' said Ms Ng.
A Falun Gong spokesman in Hong Kong told SCMP.com that some clauses in the French law were ambiguous and he was worried they could be easily used to oppress religious freedom and human rights.
''But it is legal to practice Falun Gong even in France ... I trust the SAR Government will respect the truth and freedom of belief,'' Kan Hung-cheung said.
WASHINGTON - Amnesty International on Wednesday named Chinese President Jiang Zemin as one of its human rights "scoundrels" of 2000 in a condemnation of China's rights record that the group said did not appear to be improving with expanding trade ties.
Energy company Unocal was also deemed a scoundrel for providing financial support to the military government in Myanmar (Burma) with its operations there.
The five "human rights scoundrels" cited were not the worst offenders but were representative of the many who fail to protect and respect human rights, William Schulz, the group's U.S. director, told a news conference to release a global report on rights abuses in 2000.
"We include Jiang Zemin for maintaining the Chinese Communist Party's grip on power through the widespread use of torture, persecution of minority groups and the denial of freedom of speech, association and religion," Schulz said.
In particular he cited the crackdown on the spiritual movement Falun Gong and the detention of about a half dozen academics of Chinese descent, including U.S. resident Gao Zhan whose husband spoke at the news conference.
Falun Gong, which practices a mixture of Taoism and Buddhism and traditional Chinese exercises, has been outlawed in China as an "evil cult" and a danger to national security.
Schulz was not able to say whether the human rights situation in China was generally improving but said expanding global trade ties did not appear to be making a difference.
According to the human rights watchdog's calculations, last year in China some 1,000 people were executed, 1,500 convicted and sentenced to death, 230,000 people were in prison without trial and hundreds were tortured in Tibet.
"There is no evidence that trade ties have improved the situation," Schulz said.
U.S. TRADE WITH CHINA, VIETNAM HOT ISSUE
President George W. Bush said on Tuesday he will ask the U.S. Congress this week to renew the normal trade relations status which allows Chinese exports into the United States at the same low tariffs as goods from most countries.
Even though Congress is widely expected to approve the trade status, lawmakers could take the opportunity to attach conditions or criticize China's human rights record.
Bush is also expected next week to send up to Congress for a vote a U.S.-Vietnam trade pact agreed last July.
Asked what effect increased trade might have on Hanoi, Schulz said it was too early to say and reiterated: "Trade alone in our experience is not sufficient to improve a human rights situation in a country."
Amnesty had no position on whether China should host the 2008 Summer Olympics but Schulz added his group had kept in contact with members of the International Olympic Committee (IOC), which will decide the winning bid on July 13.
"We certainly would hope that ... the Olympic Committee would be willing to use its leverage in terms of raising concerns with the Chinese about some of our (prisoner) cases," he said.
Others on the "scoundrels" list included California-based Unocal, which has a 28 percent interest in the Yadana natural gas project in Myanmar. Human rights groups believe the military employed forced labor in constructing a pipeline that connects the gas field to Thailand.
The United States did not escape Amnesty's criticism, with the Texas Board of Pardons and Parole included in the list of scoundrels for its role in carrying out the U.S. death penalty. Texas executed 40 prisoners in 2000.
"It is no wonder that the U.S. was ousted from the United Nations Human Rights Commission," Schulz said, adding the United States "stands in the same shameful death penalty league as China, Iran and Saudi Arabia."
BEIJING - Lei Feng to the rescue, once again!
Ever since he was sainted by Mao himself in 1963 with the inspired call, "Learn From Comrade Lei Feng!" this selfless, wise and prematurely deceased soldier has been held up as a model to the Chinese people.
Now his sturdy ghost has proved its mettle once again, the Liberation Army Daily reported on Monday this time in the battle to purge heresies of the banned Falun Gong spiritual sect from the minds of wayward citizens.
Lei Feng's unparalleled concern for his fellow man, documented in the amazing diary filled with purity and good deeds that was reported to have been discovered after his accidental death, has more than once been specially featured in a time of social uncertainty.
His steadfastness was loudly preached, for instance, after the army's killings of demonstrators around Tiananmen Square in June 1989. And a couple of years ago, he was resurrected to help the millions of newly laid-off workers to keep their upper lips stiff and chins high.
These days Mr. Lei's spirit has apparently met one of the most demanding challenges yet.
In the last year, the army newspaper said, about 500 "deeply poisoned" followers of the banned group were taken from their nearby "re- education through labor" camp to visit the Lei Feng Memorial Hall in the northeastern province of Liaoning. Guided by troops from Mr. Lei's former unit, those strayed citizens "increased the pace of their mental transformation and shortened the time it took to return to their families and society."
As every child has been taught for the last 38 years, Lei Feng was an orphan who was raised by his local Communist Party branch. He served nobly in the military until the fateful, rainy day in 1962 when a truck accidentally knocked a telephone pole onto his head, killing him.
>From his astounding diary and comrades' testimonials, the propaganda mavens soon announced, Mr. Lei was clearly a Communist icon. He was so altruistic, a typical story held, that when a comrade was ill and needed transfusions, he donated no less than three liters - more than six pints - of his own blood, then spent the entire $7 fee he received on gifts for fellow soldiers.
Once Mao gave his endorsement, Mr. Lei became a fixture of party exhortations, surviving right through China's recent decades of dazzling economic and social change, even as the public became more worldly and Mr. Lei became a standing joke.
"This kind of propaganda may seem ridiculous," said Wu Guoguan, a political scientist at the Chinese University of Hong Kong. "But praising Lei Feng remains a way to show loyalty."
"Even as the leaders praise economic liberalization and the Internet, the Communist Party can't change its basic nature," said Mr. Wu, who in the 1980's dispensed the party line himself as an editor at People's Daily. "And the propaganda machine is an essential part of it."
Any doubts about the party's steadfast core were dispelled in other pronouncements this week. A front-page editorial in People's Daily on Monday emphasized the absolute need to observe the "Four Cardinal Principles."
These guiding standards, propounded in 1979 by Deng Xiaoping, then China's top leader, are: adhere to the socialist road, adhere to the people's democratic dictatorship, adhere to the leadership of the Communist Party and adhere to Marxism- Leninism and Mao Zedong Thought.
Today, in yet another throwback to the Mao era, the Chinese people were regaled with President Jiang Zemin's "Random Thoughts on Climbing Mount Huang."
All of the major newspapers carried a large boxed feature about the poem on their front pages. Mr. Jiang described the "carefree and elated" feeling he had when he climbed the scenic peak and offered the nation this work, its closing words hinting at a great Communist vision:
Gazing at the reclining pine on Tiandu Peak,
And the two flying pinnacles of Lotus and Shixin Peaks.
I wield a scribe's brush to catch the splendid scene,
As the sun bursts through billowing clouds a thousand leagues in red.
Critics have not dared to liken his verbal prowess to that of Chairman Mao, whom many considered an accomplished poet. Nor has anyone yet drawn comparisons with the inspirational diary jottings of Lei Feng.
But the power of Mr. Lei's words were suggested by Monday's news account. A recent group of Falun Gong prisoners taken to the Lei Feng memorial, it said, spontaneously repeated and copied down inscriptions from the diary like: "If you are a drop of water, you have moistened an inch of soil; if you are a ray of light, you have brightened a foot of darkness."
The shaken believers were moved to ask, the paper reported, "Why would Lei Feng want to do so many good deeds?" To which their tour guide replied, "To make other people's lives happier!"
They asked, "Didn't Lei Feng ever think about doing things for himself?" gotthis reply: "The first thing he thought about was the party, the state and the people!"
And they asked, "How did Lei Feng get around to doing so many good deeds?" The answer: "By devoting his limited life to limitlessly serving the people!"
When is a blacklist not a blacklist?
According to Deputy Director of Immigration Lai Tung-kwok, when it is an ``entry-control name-list'' of people to be kept out of the SAR.
Mr Lai sought to draw this fine line yesterday to prove that both of his bosses - Secretary for Security Regina Ip Lau Suk-yee and Director of Immigration Ambrose Lee Siu-kwong - were right, despite their seemingly conflicting statements on the issue. But the distinction would probably be lost on the compilers of the Concise Oxford Dictionary, which defines a blacklist as ``a list of people or groups regarded as unacceptable or untrustworthy''.
Mrs Ip admitted last week the department had a list of undesirable persons, while Mr Lee insisted after the banning of Falun Gong practitioners during this month's visit by President Jiang Zemin that there was no blacklist.
Mr Lai said yesterday there was no conflict between the comments as the department did not regard its ``entry-control name-list'' as a ``blacklist'', as it was commonly termed by the media. ``The decision on allowing anyone entry into the SAR is made according to immigration information we have gained as well as the current situation and environment,'' he said.
He said the list had existed for ``a period of time'' that he did not specify and it was updated and reviewed ``from time to time''. He would not disclose what sorts of people were on the list.
The Falun Gong - one of several organisations that staged protests during the Fortune Global Forum from May 8 to 10 - said 102 overseas practitioners were barred from entering the SAR. This prompted statements of concern from the United States, Britain and Australia.
The Mormon church has changed its Chinese name to distinguish the church from cult groups. But the church denied the name change was in response to government moves to crack down on ``evil cults'' like the Falun Gong.
The former Chinese name translated as ``Jesus Christ End of the World Saints Church'', and church spokesman Jay Fellows said the words ``end of the world'' might be associated with apocalyptic cults. The new name used characters meaning ``latter stage'', which was closer to the church's English name, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, he said.
Former governor Chris Patten, now a top European Union (EU) official, warned Hong Kong yesterday of international concern if it follows the mainland and bans the Falun Gong sect.
Mr Patten, the EU's external affairs commissioner, told RTHK Radio 3: ``There would be a great deal of international interest, if anything was done about the Falun Gong because there would be some concerns in Europe and North America.
``There are bound to be international concerns because of events and developments outside Hong Kong and not inside Hong Kong.''
Mr Patten was in Beijing for a meeting of East Asian and EU foreign ministers.
In an interview this week, Chief Executive Tung Chee-hwa compared the Falun Gong to the notorious Jonestown sect that committed mass suicide in Guyana in 1978. More than 900 sect members died.
His comments reinforced speculation that authorities are considering banning the group, which was outlawed on the mainland almost two years ago.
Mr Tung was comparing the Jonestown suicide to an incident in Beijing's Tiananmen Square earlier this year in which two people said by the mainland to be members of the group died after setting themselves on fire.
Earlier, officials said the government was studying overseas experiences in legislating against cults.
The Chief Executive's office said yesterday the government would monitor Falun Gong activities and would not allow the abuse of local freedoms to disturb the peace in Hong Kong or the mainland. ``Mr Patten should be aware that the HKSAR government is able to deal with issues which fall within the autonomy of Hong Kong under the Basic Law,'' it said.
Tsang Yok-sing, chairman of the pro-Beijing Democratic Alliance for the Betterment of Hong Kong, said Mr Patten's comments should have been more constructive than critical.
``Each country has its own way to deal with cults,'' Mr Tsang said.
``If Chris Patten is really concerned about Hong Kong affairs, I think it would be better for him to provide some suggestions to the SAR government on how to deal with this matter rather than to quarrel with it.''
Democratic Party chairman Martin Lee Chu-ming said: ``I feel it's perfectly appropriate for Chris Patten, in his capacity inside the European Commission, to make comments about Hong Kong on a Hong Kong radio station.''
Meanwhile, the Bar Association issued a statement yesterday warning that ``any proposal to legislate against `cults' will invariably threaten freedoms of conscience and religion guaranteed to residents of the HKSAR by our constitution''.
``The expressions `religion' and `religious belief' are to be broadly construed. They should not apply only to the traditional religions,'' it said.
Chinese University sociology professor Lau Siu-kai said Mr Patten's assessment was essentially correct, especially in light of the recent souring of the relationship between Washington and Beijing.
``If the Hong Kong government is going to take action against the Falun Gong, I anticipate some kind of international reaction,'' he said.
Western countries would interpret any move against the group as being the product of pressure from Beijing.
Hong Kong authorities appear to be on the verge of following Beijing's lead and banning the Falun Gong spiritual movement. Such a move would be the gravest blow yet to the principle of "one country, two systems" and would effectively downgrade the territory to the status of just another mainland city, making it difficult for foreign governments to justify treating it as an entity distinct from the rest of China.
Chief Executive Tung Chee Hwa seems to be looking for a way to ban the group while still preserving the appearance that all is well with Hong Kong's rule of law. The head of the civil service Donald Tsang announced last week that the government is considering an anti-cult criminal law similar to those drafted in some Western countries; the main model is reportedly a law now before the French legislature.
In order to justify such a move, the government is gearing up a campaign to portray the Falun Gong as a threat to Hong Kong's people. This week, Secretary of Security Regina Ip explained that the government is considering legislation because Falun Gong is a "spillover" from the mainland, where it has been declared an "evil cult." Mr. Tung has said he agrees with that label, and a few days ago added that the self-immolations of five people, said to be Falun Gong members, on Tiananmen Square in January reminded him of the Jonestown mass suicide in 1978. He called the group "a mix of cult and politics" and said he had to watch its members because "I don't want them to do irreparable harm to Hong Kong."
Adopting a law like the one under consideration in France would represent an attack on Hong Kong's freedoms. The law is vague enough about what constitutes a cult to allow serious abuses of power by officials, and it is ill-advised even in France. But at least there it can be counterbalanced by the forces of democracy, since French citizens can use the ballot box to remove from power a government that enforces the law too harshly. No such possibility exists in undemocratic Hong Kong.
Moreover, the law would immediately pose a problem for the Hong Kong judiciary, which would be called on to judge whether it violated the freedoms guaranteed in the Basic Law, the territory's post-handover constitution. The local courts deservedly enjoy a reputation as the finest in Asia, but since the 1997 return to Chinese sovereignty the highest body, the Court of Final Appeal, has had its wings clipped on constitutional matters by the National People's Congress in Beijing.
Just to be absolutely clear, the Falun Gong poses no threat to Hong Kong.
Its local members number a few hundred, and it has never shown any propensity for violence. Indeed, Falun Gong's teachings prohibit violence, and even in mainland China, where authorities have persecuted the group ruthlessly, the practitioners have refused to lash out. Other local religious groups, including the Catholic Church, have come to Falun Gong's defense, recognizing that any government action against the group would erode religious freedom for all.
There can be no mistake, an anti-cult law would be a crossing of the Rubicon, showing that Hong Kong is willing to throw out the principle of "one country, two systems" in order to please Beijing. It would draw down condemnation on the Tung administration from every government and organization that monitors Hong Kong's autonomy and human rights, hurting the city's reputation. And it would even do economic damage, by throwing into doubt Hong Kong's commitments to honor a whole range of other promises that underpin its status as a reliable base for doing business. The message is clear: Falun Gong members should be left to practice their religion in peace.
MONTREAL - Friends of a Canada-based member of the Falun Gong spiritual movement, who was arrested in China earlier this month, appealed on Friday for her release from detention.
Zhu Ying, a 35-year-old permanent Canadian resident, who lives in Montreal, was arrested on May 10 after crossing into mainland China from Hong Kong, where she had taken part in a meeting of Falun Gong members.
The Falun Gong movement, which practices a mixture of Taoism and Buddhism, as well as traditional Chinese physical exercises, has been outlawed in China, where it has been branded as an evil cult and accused of trying to overthrow the government.
Zhu's friends said she was arrested near the city of Guangzhou, located about two hours by train from Hong Kong, and have not heard from her since.
"I am really worried about her safety, I am really anxious. I know how the Chinese regime treats Falun Gong practitioners," Zhu's traveling companion, Zhili Li, told reporters through an interpreter in Montreal on Friday.
Speaking during a news conference at the offices of the International Centre for Human Rights and Democratic Development, a Canadian government created and funded agency, Zhili said Zhu had planned to visit her husband and parents in Guangzhou after arriving by train. Zhili planned to visit her own family in Beijing and the two were scheduled to take different trains, one hour apart, from Hong Kong.
"She was waiting for her train. That is the last time we saw each other," Zhili said.
Zhili was stopped at the mainland Chinese border and deported, but Zhu appears to have been arrested after crossing the border, Zhili said.
In Ottawa, Marie-Christine Lilkoff, spokeswoman for Canada's Foreign Ministry, told Reuters that Canadian authorities were trying to obtain more information on Zhu's arrest.
"The Canadian consulate general in Guangzhou has been instructed to contact the Chinese authorities to establish where Mrs. Zhu is. We will try to establish why she has been detained," she said.
Lilkoff added that since Zhu is not a Canadian citizen, Ottawa can only request the cooperation of the Chinese authorities.
"We're concerned about the ongoing reports of the suppression of freedom of expression and spiritual practice in China, and we have raised human rights concerns with the Chinese authorities on many occasions and will continue to do so," she said.
Zhili, who like Zhu is a permanent resident of Canada and is seeking Canadian citizenship, said she did not know why she was stopped at the mainland Chinese border, while Zhu was allowed to proceed, only to be arrested later.
Zhili said she still wants to visit her own family in mainland China, but is fearful that authorities there can easily find out about her movements.
"I get the feeling that they know I am coming and are prepared," she said.
Yang Yumin, a Falun Gong member living in Montreal, said there are up to 70 practitioners in the city, many of them Westerners drawn to the movement. He noted that a number of Canadian citizens originally from China have been prevented from entering Hong Kong because they were Falun Gong members.
Yang added that the government, led by Chinese President Jiang Zemin, is kept well informed by unknown individuals of the movement of Falun Gong members seeking to visit China.
"There is a network seemingly here in Canada that reports some things to the Jiang Zemin regime," he said.
HONG KONG - The Hong Kong Bar Association slammed the government on Friday for considering legislation targeted at religious cults, saying such a move would threaten the freedoms of expression and religion in Hong Kong.
The statement by the association, came amid speculation by the local press that Hong Kong will outlaw the controversial Falun Gong spiritual movement, which has been banned in mainland China as an "evil cult."
"No case of necessity has been made out for legislating against 'cults' in Hong Kong," said the Bar Association.
The safety of Hong Kong people has not been threatened by any cult, and even if it was, Hong Kong has ample laws to deal with such matters, it said.
"The Bar Council urges the Hong Kong government to preserve the rule of law by not legislating against an illusory threat when the legal armory it commands is sufficient to handle any 'cult' and its activities," it said.
Hong Kong's chief secretary Donald Tsang said on May 18 that the territory would consider all options, including legislation, when dealing with religious cults.
Tsang, however, said there would be full public consultation before specific legislation was prepared to ban the activities of movements such as the Falun Gong.
Hong Kong, a former British colony which returned to China in 1997, had taken a relaxed stance towards the Falun Gong, until the group held a high profile conference condemning Chinese President Jiang Zemin in January.
That prompted Beijing to issue stern warnings that any attempts to turn Hong Kong into a centre for Falun Gong, or an anti-China base, would not be tolerated.
The Falun Gong movement, which practices a mixture of Taoism and Buddhism and traditional Chinese physical exercises, has been accused of trying to overthrow the Chinese government.
Falun Gong practitioners are again appealing to the Canadian government for help in securing the release of a Montrealer believed jailed during a visit to China this month.
Ying Zhu, a 35-year-old permanent resident of Canada described as being "very close" to obtaining her citizenship, disappeared on May 10 during a trip to visit her parents in the southern Chinese province of Guangdong.
Prior to her trip to Guangdong, Ms. Zhu had joined a pro-Falun Gong demonstration in Hong Kong, where the Beijing crackdown against the meditation movement is less draconian than in mainland China.
Yesterday, the Hong Kong Human Rights Information Centre confirmed that Ms.
Zhu had been arrested and is one of tens of thousands of Chinese citizens being held for practising Falun Gong.
Earlier this year, pressure from the Canadian government prompted the release of former Montrealer KunLun Zhang -- who holds both Chinese and Canadian citizenship -- from a Chinese labour camp.
Mr. Zhang, a renowned sculptor who had lived in Montreal for seven years, returned to China in 1996 to help care for his ailing mother. He was arrested last summer for practising Falun Gong in a public park.
Initially, Chinese officials refused Canadian requests for his release because Mr. Zhang had returned to his homeland using his Chinese passport.
But in January, apparently bowing to pressure from international media and Foreign Affairs Minister John Manley on the eve of a Team Canada trade mission to Beijing, China released Mr. Zhang.
Today, Falun Gong practitioners in Montreal will press the Canada to urge China to release Ms. Zhu.
Spokesman Yumin Yang said last night that Ms. Zhu is a landed immigrant who has been in Canada for several years. He said her husband, Yan Sun, is a Canadian citizen and that the couple have a business that operates both in China and Canada.
Falun Gong, which includes aspects of Buddhism and Taoism and combines spiritual teachings and gentle stretching exercises, gained enormous popularity in China in the 1990s. But by 1999, when an estimated 100 million people had become part of the movement, Chinese President Jiang Zemin began to view Falun Gong as a threat to the Communist party's authority, declared the movement an "evil cult" and launched a violent crackdown.
HONG KONG - A Canada-based member of the Falun Gong spiritual movement has been missing since crossing into mainland China earlier this month, sparking fears that she may have been detained by police, a Hong Kong rights group said.
Zhu Ying, a Canadian permanent resident from Montreal, took part in a meeting of Falun Gong members in Hong Kong earlier this year, the Information Centre for Human Rights and Democracy said on Thursday.
She travelled to the southern Chinese city of Shenzhen from Hong Kong on May 10 and planned to visit her parents in nearby Guangzhou city, it said.
Zhu had not been heard from since then, the centre said.
Unidentified sources told her relatives Zhu had been detained by police but mainland police had yet to notify her family, the rights group said.
The Falun Gong movement, which practises a mixture of Taoism and Buddhism, as well as traditional Chinese physical exercises, has been outlawed in China where it has been branded as an evil cult and accused of trying to overthrow the government.
HONG KONG - Li Hongzhi, founder of the Falun Gong movement, has been named the most powerful communicator in Asia this year for his ability to mobilize millions of followers, a regional magazine that compiled the ranking said Thursday.
Hong Kong-based Asiaweek listed Li ahead of Keiji Tachikawa, president of NTT DoCoMo Inc.; Ang Lee, director of award-winning film ''Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon''; Chinese President Jiang Zemin; and Vandana Shiva, worldwide antiglobalization activist; in the top five of its annual ''Power 50'' ranking.
The magazine said it has redefined power this year as ''those who can communicate -- or control the message'' because they are the ones who ''wield the greatest influence'' in today's information age.
''Li is a man of the moment. He has tapped into a spiritual void in a China that is plunging into capitalism,'' Dorinda Elliott, editor of Asiaweek, said in a statement.
''While we may not agree with his message or his methods, it is for his power to inspire, to mobilize people and to spook Beijing that we select Li as Asia's most influential communicator,'' Elliott said.
Li was ranked 38th in last year's list.
His Falun Gong has been outlawed in China, which has labeled the Buddhist-oriented spiritual movement an evil cult and ordered the arrest of Li. Still, the movement has millions of adherents in some 40 countries and territories.
As for other winners in the list, they include nine Japanese political and business leaders, four more than the figure last year.
Apart from Tachikawa, who came second for his first appearance, Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi the eighth place, despite coming to power just last month.
Other new Japanese faces on the list are Tadashi Yanai, founder of Fast Retailing Co. (12th); pop singer Hikaru Utada (26th); Hiroshi Mikitani, founder of Rakuten (31st); and Oki Matsumoto, chief executive officer of e-broker Monex (40th).
Tokyo Gov. Shintaro Ishihara rocketed up to the 19th from 37th last year, while Sony Corp. Chairman Nobuyuki Idei slid to the 22nd from third.
Masayoshi Son, chief executive officer of Softbank Corp., was ninth this year, one place lower than last year's ranking.
This year also sees two returnees after being dropped from the list last year -- the Dalai Lama, who was in the 21st position, and Osama bin Laden, leader of Al-Qaeda in Saudi Arabia, in 23rd place.
Filipino ''cell phone texters'' who helped oust former Philippine President Joseph Estrada were given the 20th slot on the list. Estrada himself came 35th, down from last year's 24th.
Onel de Guzman, who was accused of creating the Love Bug computer virus, won 11th position.
Hong Kong tycoon Li Ka-shing, who topped last year's roll, declined to 13th.
The government cranked up the publicity offensive against the Falun Gong yesterday, labelling the group a ``cult'' and comparing it with the sect behind Japan's deadly sarin gas attack.
The broadside by executive councillors came a day after an interview with the Chief Executive was released in which Tung Chee-hwa likened the self-immolation of Falun Gong members in Tiananmen Square in January to the 1978 Jonestown mass suicide involving 914 people.
A local Falun Gong leader said the attacks showed the government was getting closer to banning the group.
Executive Councillor Raymond Ch'ien Kuo-fung yesterday compared the Falun Gong to Japan's Aum Shinri Kyo (Supreme Truth) sect, which in 1995 released sarin nerve gas in a Tokyo subway, killing 12 people and injuring more than 5,500. He said the government should act to prevent a cult-related tragedy from happening in Hong Kong.
And Executive Council convenor Leung Chun-ying echoed Mr Tung's view that the Falun Gong was not a religious body, and thus the principle of religious freedom did not apply to it.
On Monday, United Press International news service released an interview with Mr Tung, who denounced the sect as a ``cult''.
``First of all, it is not about religion, whose freedom is also guaranteed by our constitution, or Basic Law,'' Mr Tung said in the interview, which was conducted a week ago.
``It's a bit of a cult. Many have been willing to die for it and I was shocked to see cultists willing to burn themselves on Tiananmen Square. It is eerily reminiscent of the Jonestown mass suicide in Guyana. That, too, was a mix of cult and politics.''
Asked whether the SAR government was moving to ban the sect, Mr Tung said: ``That all depends on what they do, hence our careful surveillance.''
He added the group was being watched ``very carefully'' to prevent it from doing irreparable harm to Hong Kong.
Yesterday, Mr Leung and Mr Ch'ien were quick to join the chorus. ``Firstly, the Falun Gong has officially and repeatedly said it is not a religious body.
It is not part of any religion and, therefore, there is no association between what may or may not happen with the Falun Gong in Hong Kong or any other part of the world and with religious freedom,'' Mr Leung said.
When asked for his views on Mr Tung's remarks, Mr Ch'ien said: ``A responsible government should try its best to prevent disasters similar to the one caused by Japan's Aum Supreme Truth from happening.'' He said the government's ultimate aim was to prevent these ``incidents'' from happening in Hong Kong. It was not essential to go through a legislative procedure, the government could resort to other administrative means to achieve that aim.
Hong Kong Falun Dafa Association spokesman Kan Hung-cheung said it was obvious from the remarks segregating the Falun Gong from other religious bodies, that the government was preparing to persecute the group.
Mr Kan insisted the Falun Gong was a religious group from a ``metaphysical perspective''. ``Falun Gong is a `worshipping organisation'. Though it is different from `formal' religious bodies, it shares some of their major characteristics: guiding people to be good and honest, and upgrading the ethical standards of society.''
HONG KONG - Hong Kong's Secretary for Security Regina Ip said Wednesday the government so far has no plan to enact any legislation to curb cults in Hong Kong, even while local Falun Gong members protested any moves to ban their movements.
Ip admitted the administration is studying how other governments tackle the problem of cults, but added any measures to be taken in Hong Kong will have to recognize the law and fully consider public opinion.
The remarks of the security chief, who is in charge of law and order, came after local media repeatedly reported the government may enact an anti-cult law to ban the controversial Falun Gong religious movement in Hong Kong.
Chief Executive Tung Chee-hwa earlier this week noted the government has to be prepared and cannot afford to wait for an incident similar to the 1978 mass cult suicide in Jonestown, Guyana, before acting.
Tung did not say what the government plans are or whether the government would ban Falun Gong.
But fearing the Tung administration may outlaw their group as an ''evil cult'' as China did in 1999, local Falun Gong members protested to government officials and legislators.
''We are deeply disturbed as the government confirms its plan to research the not-yet-passed anti-cult legislation of France, and to draft Hong Kong's version, purportedly to ban Falun Gong locally,'' the group said in an open letter Wednesday.
They charged the government was bowing to pressure from Chinese leaders and following their ''totalitarian order'' against the best interests of Hong Kong.
They warned that the spirit of rule of law and democracy as well as the respect for human rights will be seriously undermined if the territory's government enacts ''tailor-made legislation'' to suppress their ''law-abiding'' group.
But Ip denied the government has any intention to curb cults at this stage when questioned by legislators at their weekly meeting Wednesday.
''It is not unusual for a responsible government to keep track of developments and study the experience of other places in dealing with similar problems,'' Ip said.
She reiterated the government is committed to the protection of freedom of religion and all measures taken are in strict compliance with the relevant provisions of the Basic Law, Hong Kong's post-handover constitution, and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
In making any decision in future, Hong Kong's overall interests will be taken into account, Ip said and she denied any decision would be subject to pressure from Beijing.
Earlier this month, the government was criticized for barring about 100 overseas Falun Gong members from entering Hong Kong to stage protests while Chinese President Jiang Zemin was in the territory for an international business forum.
What Is Falun Gong? See "Falun Gong 101", by Massimo Introvigne
"Falun Gong 101. Introduzione al Falun Gong e alla sua presenza in Italia" (in italiano), di Massimo Introvigne
FALUN GONG UPDATES
Anti-Cult Law in France - Index Page
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