DETROIT - An American follower of the Falun Gong sect who was detained in Beijing returned to the United States on Saturday, saying he had been questioned and threatened before he was deported.
Jason Pomerleau, 25, said it was only because of nationality that he and his Canadian girlfriend, Christine Loftus, 22, were freed without much harm.
"If we had been Chinese, we would have been beaten severely," Pomerleau said from Detroit Metropolitan Airport, where he arrived on a flight from Beijing and waited for a connecting flight to Boston. "We are very, very lucky." His brother, Daniel Pomerleau, a student at Clark University in Worcester, Mass., had been arrested on Wednesday while passing out Falun Gong literature and was deported the same day.
Jason Pomerleau said he and Loftus planned to distribute Falun Gong materials at an electronics market on Thursday.
"We were getting on the bus, when somebody in plainclothes grabbed us," Pomerleau said. "Immediately my reaction was 'We haven't done anything wrong. We haven't committed any crime.' " He said they were questioned together, then separated later that night.
Pomerleau, a laboratory technician at Joslin Diabetes Center in Boston, said there was much "pushing and shoving" and he was threatened.
Loftus, a student at Brock University in St. Catherine's, Ontario, was released Friday night, he said.
China outlawed Falun Gong in 1999, calling it an "evil cult" that leads followers to their deaths by driving them insane or telling them to refuse modern medicine.
The group claims it seeks only to promote good health and moral living with its regime of traditional Chinese exercises, meditation and beliefs based on Taoism, Buddhism and the ideas of its founder, Li Hongzhi.
BEIJING - An American and a Canadian follower of Falun Gong have been detained in Beijing, where they came to protest China's ban on the meditation sect, supporters abroad said yesterday.
Jason Pomerleau, 25, and Christine Loftus, 22, were detained outside a market Thursday afternoon, the group said in an e-mail sent to reporters. The statement was sent along with a photo of two people identified as Pomerleau and Loftus being taken away by security guards.
Loftus, of Barrie, Ontario, is a student at Brock University in St. Catherine's, Ontario, the statement said. Pomerleau works at Joslin Diabetes Center in Boston, according to his family.
They were traveling together in China to raise awareness among the Chinese citizens about the ongoing persecution campaign against Falun Gong, the statement said.
Pomerleau's family said he failed to check in with them Thursday as planned.
The Chinese Foreign Ministry and Beijing police said they did not know of anyone by those names being detained.
The Canadian and American Embassies in Beijing said they had no information about the pair. Canadian Embassy spokeswoman Jennifer May said Loftus' family has asked diplomats for help and the embassy has requested information from Chinese authorities, but so far to no avail. A number of foreign Falun Gong members have been detained in Beijing and deported after staging protests against the ban.
Loftus' twin brother, Jason, was forced to leave China in February after taking part in a protest on Tiananmen Square in central Beijing.
Pomerleau's brother Daniel, 20, was deported Wednesday after being picked up while passing out Falun Gong literature.
Daniel Pomerleau, a student at Clark University in Worcester, Mass., said he was kicked, punched and denied food and water by police.
China outlawed Falun Gong in 1999, calling it an evil cult that leads followers to their deaths by driving them insane or telling them to refuse modern medicine The group claims it seeks only to promote good health and moral living with its regime of traditional Chinese exercises, meditation and beliefs based on Taoism, Buddhism and the ideas of its founder, Li Hongzhi.
Thousands of Falun Gong members have been detained in China, and the group claims hundreds have been killed by police. Beijing denies abusing Falun Gong followers.
China has released an American student arrested for campaigning for Falun Gong but his family says his brother may still be in custody on similar charges.
Two U.S. lawmakers traveling to China plan to call for his release.
Daniel Pomerleau, 22, was arrested by Chinese secret police on Monday hours after he began to distribute pamphlets on Falun Gong in Beijing.
"They slapped, kicked and punched me during interrogations," said Mr. Pomerleau, a student at Clark University in Worcester, Mass. "They wanted to know if I knew anyone in China."
Mr. Pomerleau, who was deported Wednesday after 48 hours in detention, said the Chinese police did not allow him to contact the U.S. Embassy.
Mr. Pomerleau said he was released after the authorities seized $200 worth of his personal belongings and made him buy another plane ticket.
But Mr. Pomerleau said his brother, Jason, might not be so lucky and worried that the Chinese government might detain him for longer time.
Jason Pomerleau, 25, of Vassalboro, Maine, went to China with his Canadian girlfriend, Christine Loftus, 22, to protest China's ban on Falun Gong. The couple, who traveled to Beijing via Hong Kong, were arrested on Thursday.
The family has not heard from them since then, Daniel Pomerleau said yesterday.
He said his family learned of his brother's detention through a photograph posted on a Chinese Internet site.
The Chinese "might not deport him the way they deported me," he said.
But a State Department spokesman said yesterday that Jason Pomerleau's arrest has yet to be confirmed. "At this point I am not able to confirm or deny," he said. "That is all I can say."
Jason Pomerleau graduated from Tufts University in 1999 and Miss Loftus is a student at Brock University in St. Catherines, Ontario.
Meanwhile, a delegation of approximately of 20 senators and congressmen left for Beijing via Hong Kong yesterday. The team is expected to meet with Chinese officials and participate in a forum organized by the think tank Aspen Institute.
Two members of the team from Maine - Republican Sen. Olympia J. Snowe and Democratic Rep. Tom Allen - are expected to take up the case of Mr. Pomerleau with the Chinese leaders.
Mrs. Snowe is aware of the issue and will raise it at the forum, her spokesman, Dave Lackey, said.
"The State Department is trying to locate and arrange his release," Mr. Lackey said. "The situation moved quickly once Daniel was located, and we hope the same [will happen] with his brother."
Allen spokesman Mark Sullivan also said the congressman will raise the issue and take necessary measures for the prompt release of Mr. Pomerleau.
China outlawed Falun Gong in 1999, labeling it an "evil cult" that forces its followers to commit suicide. However, the group claims it has promoted good health and moral living through meditation and exercises according to Buddhism and the teachings of the group's founder, Li Hongzhi.
BEIJING - A Canadian and an American follower of Falun Gong have been detained in Beijing, where they came to protest China's ban on the meditation group, supporters abroad said Friday.
Christine Loftus, 22, and her boyfriend, Jason Pomerleau, 25, were detained outside a Beijing market at about 3:30 p.m. on Thursday, the group said in an e-mail sent to reporters. Included with the statement was a photo of a couple identified as Loftus and Pomerleau being taken away by security guards.
Loftus, of Barrie, Ontario, is a student at Brock University in St.
Catherine's, Ontario, the statement said. Pomerleau works at Joslin Diabetes Center in Boston, according his family.
The couple was traveling in China to "raise awareness among the Chinese citizens about the ongoing persecution campaign against Falun Gong," the release said.
China outlawed Falun Gong in 1999, calling the group an "evil cult" that leads followers to their deaths by driving them insane or telling them to refuse modern medicine.
Pomerleau's family said he failed to check in with them Thursday as planned.
The Chinese Foreign Ministry and Beijing police said they did not know of anyone by those names being detained.
The Canadian and American Embassies in Beijing said they had no information.
Canadian Embassy spokeswoman Jennifer May said Loftus' family has asked diplomats for help and the embassy has requested information from Chinese authorities, but "so far to no avail."
Falun Gong said the photo with its statement was taken by a Chinese photographer and posted on a Chinese online chat room.
It shows a Caucasian couple on a city street being pushed and pulled by nine Chinese security guards and two men in business suits. A guard is holding the woman by the back of her neck. She appears to be shouting.
Falun Gong members found the photo online and friends identified the couple as Loftus and Pomerleau, said Levi Browde, a member in New York.
A number of foreign Falun Gong members have been detained in Beijing and deported after staging protests against the ban.
Loftus' twin brother, Jason, was expelled in February after a protest on Tiananmen Square in central Beijing with Browde.
Pomerleau's 20-year-old brother, Daniel, was deported Wednesday after being picked up while passing out Falun Gong literature.
Daniel Pomerleau, a student at Clark University in Worcester, Massachusetts, says he was kicked, punched and denied food and water by police.
Falun Gong claims it seeks only to promote good health and moral living with its regime of traditional Chinese exercises, meditation and beliefs based on Taoism, Buddhism and the ideas of its founder, former grain clerk Li Hongzhi.
Thousands of Falun Gong members have been detained in China, and the group claims hundreds have been killed by police. Beijing denies abusing sect followers.
VASSALBORO - A 20-year-old Vassalboro man was detained in China this week while protesting that government's treatment of Falun Gong members.
U.S. Sen. Susan Collins' office confirmed Wednesday that Daniel Pomerleau, a Falun Gong practitioner, was held by Chinese authorities, then expelled from the country.
Pomerleau left Boston by plane Sunday for a weeklong stay in China. At Tiananmen Square in Beijing, he planned to protest the persecution of practitioners of Falun Gong, a form of meditation banned by the Chinese government.
But he apparently never got that chance.
The Erskine Academy graduate, the son of Michael and Diane Pomerleau, was scheduled to contact fellow Falun Gong members at Clark University in Worcester, Mass., as soon as he arrived, but the call never came. Pomerleau is a sophomore at the university, majoring in geography.
His mother, who also practices Fulan Gong, said she won't know what happened to her son until he returns from China.
"The only thing I can figure is that (airport officials in China) checked his bag and found some of his literature on Falun Gong," Diane Pomerleau said. "That would have been it. There is no way he would have gone further than that airport. But Daniel is the only one who knows that."
Sen. Collins, R-Maine, through the U.S. State Department, asked the Chinese government to release Pomerleau, according to Megan Sowards, a spokeswoman for Collins.
"A state department official said (Pomerleau) was officially detained for some period of time and expelled by the government of China," Sowards said.
Diane Pomerleau was relieved to learn that her son was reportedly put on a plane scheduled to land Wednesday evening in Vancouver, British Columbia.
Falun Gong, also known as Falun Dafa, is a practice of meditation with teachings based on the principle of "Truthfulness-Compassion-Tolerance." The Falun Dafa Information Center, which has offices in Boston, claims that as many as 100 million practice Falun Gong.
Chinese President Jiang Zemin outlawed the practice in July 1999.
"Tommorrow I leave for China for a week to talk with the Chinese people and goverment officials everywhere I go," Pomerleau wrote in a letter released by the information center. "I will tell them with a warm smile that I practice Falun Dafa, that my older brother and mother also practice Falun Dafa, and that my family members, friends, teachers, coaches, and co-workers have all shown great support for Falun Dafa and the benefits it has brought me."
Pomerleau arrived in China alone on Monday. When Riordan Gallucio, a fellow Fulan Gong member, reportedly didn't hear from Pomerleau, he became worried.
He called a news conference Wednesday in Boston to explain that Pomerleau planned to appeal at Tiananmen Square for better treatment of the Falun Gong.
"He feels really strongly about it," Gallucio said.
On Monday, the day Pomerleau was scheduled to arrive in China, more than 5,000 people believed to be practitioners of Falun Gong were detained as part of an unprecedented police sweep, according to the Falun Dafa Information Center.
Amnesty International headquarters in London issued a statement before the police sweep began. "Dozens of suspected members of the Falun Gong spiritual movement have been reportedly detained during a security crackdown in Changchun city, Jilin Province. Amnesty International believes they are at serious risk of torture or ill treatment."
Falun Gong has roots in traditional Chinese culture, but it is distinct from other practices in China, such as Buddhism and Taoism.
The Falun Dafa Information Center asserts that it has verified more than 375 deaths since the persecution of Falun Gong members in China began in 1999. Government officials inside China, however, report that the actual death toll is more than 1,600, the information center says.
Wednesday evening, Diane Pomerleau planned to call family members to tell them her son is expected to return home. She planned to wait by the phone Wednesday for his call.
"I've got to give this kid credit," she said. "It takes a lot of courage to take a risk like that, knowing the possible danger that could occur. When he was going, he knew about people being detained. He's fortunate that he's been let go. I admire someone who doesn't let fear prevent him from doing what is right."
A TRINITY COLLEGE student, imprisoned for being a Falun Gong practitioner, spoke about being tortured in a Chinese labour camp, upon his arrival back in Ireland yesterday.
Zhao Ming, 31, a computer science postgraduate at TCD, claimed he was subjected to electric shock treatment using currents of 30,000 volts just two weeks before his release earlier this month.
"It made my body shake violently," said Ming, who was released by the Chinese authorities after 22 months in captivity.
Other forms of torture used on Ming included sleep deprivation and various types of physical punishment.
During a press conference at TCD in Dublin yesterday, the Falun Gong practitioner said he suffered from a lack of feeling in his legs because of being forced to squat for periods of up to 10 hours per day.
"My feet are still very painful. It's very hard to get to sleep," said Ming.
"There were many times when attempts were made to force me to give up my belief in Falun Gong."
Thousands of Falun Gong practitioners have been detained indefinitely and been subjected to brain-washing by the Chinese authorities, who have described the popular spiritual practice as an "evil cult."
"It was a really hard and painful time," said Ming, who now hopes to resumehis studies in TCD. Even when released on March 12, Ming claimed he was kept under surveillance constantly by Chinese police. "It was very worrying for my parents as they were concerned I would be taken into custody again," he recalled.
Ming also expressed gratitude to the Friends of Zhao Ming - the group which campaigned for his release since his detention after returning home to China for a holiday in January 2000. He was subsequently imprisoned in a labour camp near Beijing after breaking house arrest to attend a Falun Gong rally in Tianamen Square.
The group's spokesperson, Jim Dowling, praised the Government's role in highlighting the issue with the Chinese authorities, in particular Taoiseach Bertie Ahern for raising Ming's case with Chinese Premier Zhu Rongji during his State visit to Ireland last year.
"There were times when we wondered if it was possible, but we never lost hope and never for a minute considered giving up campaigning," said Mr Dowling.
He added: "it's very difficult to understand what Ming has endured and the torture he has gone through in standing up for his beliefs." The group also repeated its call on the Chinese government to free all Falun Gong practitioners held in captivity. "People have a right to practice their faith without fear of prosecution," said Mr Dowling. Ming's release was welcomed by the TCD provost, Dr John Hegarty, TCD Student Union and a variety of human rights organisations, including Amnesty International.
50,000 jailed Falun Gong (or Falun Dafa as it is also known) is a spiritual meditation practice originating in China.
It is a form of qigong - an ancient Chinese practice not unlike tai-chi.
Falun Gong is practised by millions of followers in about 40 countries.
Its practice has been banned by the Chinese authorities since July 1999.
Falun Gong members claim that about 50,000 practitioners have been arrested and imprisoned in China.
It is estimated that about 1,600 Falun Gong members have died in custody in China.
HONG KONG - Authorities in Hong Kong took a tougher line Friday against Falun Gong followers arrested in a protest outside the territory's Chinese liaison office, accusing some of assaulting and obstructing police.
Sixteen members of the meditation group - including four from Switzerland - appeared in court and pleaded innocent in Hong Kong's first criminal case against members of the meditation sect, which is banned in mainland China as an "evil cult" but is legal in Hong Kong.
"We were just making a peaceful appeal," said Falun Gong spokeswoman Hui Yee-han.
The Falun Gong demonstrators faced two counts each of obstruction after they were arrested by police on March 14 at the front door of the liaison office. The group frequently protests there against Beijing's suppression of mainland followers.
Prosecutor Tommy Tang added more serious charges against four of the protesters from Hong Kong on Friday, when they appeared in court to hear a formal reading of the accusations against them.
Wong Yiu-hing and Lu Jie were accused of assaulting and obstructing police officers. Lau Yuk-ling was charged with assaulting the police, and Tso Chi-sin was charged with obstructing the police.
The charge of obstructing police is punishable in Hong Kong by up to two years in prison, and assaulting police carries a penalty of up to six months in prison. The original charges of obstruction carry a penalty of only up to three months in prison.
Falun Gong denied the charges. Both the protesters and police claimed to have sustained minor injuries after the demonstration turned into a shouting and shoving match.
Police arrested the Falun Gong followers after they refused repeated orders to move their protest from outside the front door of the Chinese liaison office to an approved location several steps away.
Prosecutor Tommy Tang did not specify Friday how the police were allegedly assaulted but alluded to two incidents inside a police van, one in a police parking lot and one inside a police briefing room.
Falun Gong and some local supporters believe Hong Kong is cracking down on sect followers under pressure from Beijing, which has waged a brutal campaign to eradicate it. Hong Kong officials deny this.
Britain handed Hong Kong over to China in 1997, under an agreement that promised the territory would retain its free market economy and enjoy a high degree of autonomy for the next 50 years.
Magistrate Tong Man ordered the Falun Gong followers to stand trial beginning June 17 but said that the Swiss defendants could leave Hong Kong in the interim.
Tang Jiaxuan told Alexander Downer that the Dalai Lama should be banned from visiting Australia during talks yesterday.
Chinese Foreign Minister Tang Jiaxuan has called for further Australian crackdowns on the Falun Gong sect, describing the group as an evil, violence-spreading cult after meeting Foreign Minister Alexander Downer yesterday.
Over the weekend, Mr Downer agreed to Chinese requests and ordered Federal Police to curb the actions of Falun Gong protesters, camped outside the Chinese embassy in Canberra for nearly a year.
Yesterday, a spokesman for Mr Downer confirmed the action was taken to ensure Mr Tang was treated "with an appropriate level of dignity" during this week's visit, but rejected the call for further moves against the sect.
The issue overshadowed talks between Mr Downer and Mr Tang marking the 30th anniversary of diplomatic relations between Australian and China. It is the first visit by a Chinese foreign minister in 10 years.
Human rights concerns remained a major stumbling block, with Mr Tang urging the banning of visits by the Dalai Lama and refusing to consider the release of an Australian, Wang Jianping, imprisoned in Beijing for spying.
About 100 Falun Gong supporters demonstrated outside parliament during the meeting, before marching to the Chinese embassy, where protesters complied with police orders to remove banners and stop broadcasting meditation music during Mr Tang's visit.
Mr Tang said the issue of restricting Falun Gong protesters was not a question of human rights or freedom as the sect was violent and should be punished.
"Any government of a sovereign country under the rule of law should have Falun Gong, this evil cult, punished according to law," Mr Tang said.
The opposition in Australia has accused the government of bowing to Chinese pressure in banning a protest by supporters of the Falun Gong spiritual movement.
An Australian Green party senator, Bob Brown, said the protesters - who had been demonstrating outside the Chinese embassy in Canberra for nine months - were ordered to move just before the arrival of the Chinese Foreign Minister, Tang Jiaxuan.
Mr Tang said he had told his Australian counterpart, Alexander Downer, that the Falun Gong was an evil cult which not only was creating trouble in China, but was now exporting it to Australia.
Mr Tang also said he had asked the Australian Government not to have any contact with the Tibetan spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, when he visits the country in May.
He said the two ministers had agreed to expand trade relations further.
Trade between China and Australia is booming - it amounted to more than $9bn in 2001.
HONG KONG - Obstruction charges filed against Falun Gong followers show the meditation sect has become a major nuisance in Hong Kong, a Beijing-allied newspaper said Saturday.
But opposition politicians and rights activists say the move threatens civil liberties that have been a cherished legacy of British colonial rule ever since China regained sovereignty nearly five years ago.
"The Falun Gong followers who tout 'truthfulness, benevolence and forbearance,' have many times caused trouble in Hong Kong,'' the paper Wen Wei Po said in full-page coverage of Hong Kong's first legal action against Falun Gong members, who staged a protest outside China's liaison office.
"They have used practicing as a reason to harass people and companies,'' Wen Wei Po said. Falun Gong says its activities here are always peaceful and lawful.
Four Falun Gong followers from Switzerland and some local supporters continued a protest Saturday near the Chinese government liaison office - just a few steps away from the place where they were arrested Thursday.
The new protest, in which the Falun Gong practitioners are refusing food, is in the spot where police had told them they could demonstrate without trouble.
Falun Gong and some local supporters believe Hong Kong is cracking down under pressure from Chinese President Jiang Zemin's government, which has outlawed Falun Gong as an "evil cult'' and is trying to eradicate it.
Hong Kong officials deny this, saying they have no intention to interfere with Falun Gong as long as it obeys local laws.
"The police were obviously pressurized by the Chinese liaison office,'' said the Rev. Fung Chi-wood, a Christian civil rights activist.
"No one would believe this is not politically motivated,'' Fung said. "These guys are not just anyone, so it's obvious that stricter rules are applied to them. If they weren't Falun Gong followers I'm sure they would be more tolerated.'' Opposition lawmaker Cyd Ho said the charges, which could put 16 Falun Gong followers into jail for up to six months, seemed to have been trumped up.
"Any demonstration on the street would cause obstruction, and no demonstration can take place without being an inconvenience to someone,'' Ho said.
"They can't move them just because they are any eyesore to the Chinese liaison office. Even though the police have been acting with restraint, we still have to ask why can't the Falun Gong followers be there?''
GLASTONBURY - A local man plans to fast for 36 hours this weekend in protest of violence against Falun Gong adherents in China.
Shun-Tien "Ted" Lin, 40, said Friday that his hunger strike is a response to mounting violence against practitioners of Falun Gong, a regimen of stretching exercises and meditation banned in China.
The Chinese government outlawed the practice in 1999, branding Falun Gong an "evil cult" that warps the minds of its followers, prompting them to kill themselves and their loved ones. Since then, China has brutally repressed Falun Gong, practitioners and human rights advocates say, detaining more than 50,000 people. As of Friday, 378 of those detainees are said to have died in custody, amid allegations they were tortured. Nearly half of those people have died since last May, human rights advocates say.
"None of these people belonged in prison. They weren't doing anything wrong," said Mickey Spiegel, a research consultant with Human Rights Watch in New York.
Lin said he hopes his hunger strike will draw attention to the crackdown in China, which practitioners say has intensified in recent weeks.
"Four practitioners have been shot in the street in China, and I'd just like to protest so that we can raise the concern and put voices out to try to stop this persecution," said Lin, an engineer at Hamilton Sundstrand.
Lin plans to begin his hunger strike this morning, and he will be in Bushnell Park near the Capitol about 3 p.m. to hand out literature and demonstrate Falun Gong exercises, which practitioners say have health benefits. Since he started practicing the regimen of exercises and meditation in 1998, Lin says, his own health has improved and a chronic stomach ailment has disappeared.
Lin will also present a seminar on Falun Gong from 7 to 9 p.m. on March 25 at the Raymond Library, 840 Main St., in East Hartford.
HONG KONG - Hong Kong authorities took their first legal action against Falun Gong followers on Friday, filing charges accusing 16 sect members of obstruction during a protest outside China's liaison office that ended in a scuffle with police.
The charges have set off a debate over whether the government is trying to silence the meditation sect and erode Hong Kong's freedoms, as members and civil rights activists fear, or if it just having police enforce the law against overzealous demonstrators, as the government says.
The move follows months of tense maneuvering between Hong Kong's government and Falun Gong. Falun Gong members are free to practice and protest in Hong Kong, but are outlawed and subject to a brutal crackdown in China, where they are seen as a threat to Communist Party rule.
Sect supporters accuse Hong Kong of acting under pressure from China to crack down on the group. Hong Kong denies the charge, even though it has gradually adopted language similar to Beijing's, calling Falun Gong a "cult" that bears close scrutiny.
On Thursday, four Swiss followers began a protest outside the front door of the Chinese government office here, refusing food and ignoring repeated police orders that they move a few steps away to the side of the building.
The Chinese office made several obstruction complaints.
When police finally decided to remove the protesters, 12 local Falun Gong followers created a circle to shield the Swiss, leading to a shoving and shouting match in which both sides claimed to have suffered minor injuries.
Police on Friday filed two counts of obstruction against the Falun Gong practitioners. The first count carries up to three months in jail and a fine of $64. The second carries up to three months and a $640 fine.
"They were peacefully demonstrating and weren't causing any inconvenience to anyone, so they have done no wrong," said Falun Gong spokesman Kan Hung-cheung. "We can see that the police are bowing to the government and (Chinese President) Jiang Zemin. This is unwise and unreasonable, and is hurting human rights and rule of law of Hong Kong."
The director of the Hong Kong Human Rights Monitor, Law Yuk-kai, agreed.
"We believe police are not just clearing street obstruction, but clearing dissenting activities as well," Law said.
The government's Security Bureau insisted that Hong Kong's freedoms, left over from British colonial days, will be protected but that the law also must be respected.
"As long as Falun Gong abides by the law in Hong Kong, the government will not intervene in its activities, despite the fact that it has been banned in mainland China," the Security Bureau said in a statement.
But the bureau mentioned problems Falun Gong has allegedly caused in China, including a purported case of self-immolation that Falun Gong calls a smear by Beijing. The bureau said such incidents must not be repeated in Hong Kong.
"We cannot turn a blind eye to the social, political or security problems which might arise," the statement said.
Sect members appeared in court Friday, many wearing their customary yellow T-shirts and blue banners saying they were on a hunger strike. Magistrate Tong Man freed them but ordered that they appear next Friday so charges can be formally read out.
Authorities filed obstruction charges Friday against 16 Falun Gong followers who scuffled with police outside China's liaison office a day earlier - the first charges filed against group members in Hong Kong. The Falun Gong, a meditation sect outlawed as an "evil cult" in China, remains legal in Hong Kong, where supporters frequently protest the brutal Chinese crackdown. Human rights groups say hundreds of Falun Gong followers have died while being detained in China. The sect's high-profile presence has been an irritant to the Hong Kong government, which has agreed with Beijing's characterization of Falun Gong as a cult and said it must be monitored closely. Those arrested - 12 Hong Kong and four Swiss Falun Gong followers - had staged a protest outside the Chinese liaison office on Thursday. The arrests occurred after the Chinese liaison office complained. Falun Gong spokesman Kan Hung-cheung said it appeared Hong Kong police were being pressured by China and said the charges should be dropped. "They have arrested them wrongly and charged them wrongly," Kan said. "This is a double mistake. It will hurt the citizens of Hong Kong." Police Superintendent Michael Chiu said Friday that two counts of obstruction were filed against the followers because they ignored police orders to move their demonstration to the side of the building. Chiu said the first count carried a sentence of up to three months in jail and $64 in fines. The second count carried up to three months in jail and $640 in fines. The Swiss followers were released on bail late Thursday and resumed their protest Friday in the area approved by police. A magistrate freed the remaining practitioners on bail Friday after ordering them to return March 22. Earlier, protester Erich Bachmann of Kreuzlingen, Switzerland, said police threatened to deport the foreign Falun Gong followers if they did not cooperate and move their protest. Chiu said that was false. China has deported foreign Falun Gong followers in the past.
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
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