PHNOM PENH, Cambodia - Cambodia's national police chief has admitted for the first time that two Chinese Falun Gong members were arrested and deported earlier this month, but claimed the police did not know they were under U.N. protection.
Gen. Hok Lundy told reporters Wednesday that the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees in Phnom Penh did not inform local authorities that asylum seekers Li Guojun and his wife Zhang Xinyi were under its protection.
Hok Lundy's comments are the first public acknowledgment by a Cambodian official that the couple were forcibly returned to China. Hok Lundy had said last week that he had "no knowledge" of the couple's arrest.
According to Falun Gong activists in New York the couple were arrested Aug. 2 and deported Aug. 9 to China. They had arrived in Cambodia in 1998 from China.
The incident attracted international attention because the two were deemed "persons of concern" by the United Nations, and Cambodia was obligated by international law to prevent them from being sent to China.
Falun Gong is a spiritual meditation group banned by China in 1999 as a threat to national security.
Hok Lundy said the two were deported for being "illegal immigrants" and at the "request of the Chinese Embassy."
"The UNHCR blames us but the question should be put to them, 'why didn't you inform us that these people were political asylum seekers?'" he said.
UNHCR officials did not immediately return phone calls Thursday for comment. But UNHCR officials have said in the past that they contacted Cambodian officials after the Aug. 2 arrests.
Hok Lundy said Cambodia does not allow "subversive movements plotting against foreign governments" to take refuge on its soil.
The small group of Chinese Falun Gong in Phnom Penh had enjoyed wide freedom in Cambodia until some six weeks ago, said Jiang Linzhong, one of at least two Falun Gong practitioners currently under U.N. protection here.
Mental Hospitals Allegedly Used to Quiet Dissidents, Falun Gong
BEIJING -- The police officer was on the run. Like others in the banned Falun Gong spiritual movement, Fang Lihong had been fired, imprisoned and forced to attend months of intense "deprogramming" classes. Unlike most, he was then committed to a psychiatric hospital -- but he escaped.
"I was terrified," Fang said last year during an interview at a seedy tavern in central China. "I'm not mentally ill, but I was trapped with the other patients for 16 months."
At first, he said, doctors at the Kangning Psychiatric Hospital in the northern city of Anshan forced him to take medication. Later, they let him take the pills to his room and discard them, Fang said. The doctors told him they knew he was sane but were under orders from his superiors in the police department to "treat" him anyway, he said.
During the 45-minute interview, Fang spoke clearly and appeared rational. Afterward, he slipped out a side door and went back into hiding. In February, according to Falun Gong officials in the United States, police caught him in southern Fujian province and he died in their custody, apparently from physical abuse. A doctor at Kangning confirmed the mental hospital had treated Fang and had been informed of his death, but he declined to discuss the case further.
Stories such as Fang's and others alleging psychiatric abuse of dissidents have prompted an increasingly contentious debate over whether the Chinese government is systematically confining people in mental hospitals for political reasons as the Soviet Union did in the 1970s and '80s.
The issue is high on the agenda of this week's congress of the World Psychiatric Association in the Japanese city of Yokohama, where delegates are expected to vote today on a resolution demanding that China open its mental hospitals to an independent investigation. If a probe found evidence of abuse, China could be expelled from the world body.
That would be an embarrassing defeat for China's ruling Communist Party, which has denied the allegations of psychiatric abuse and labored to defend its human rights record in the run-up to the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing. No major member of the World Psychiatric Association has been forced out since the Soviet Union, which withdrew in 1983 under threat of expulsion.
Whether Chinese psychiatrists will meet the same condemnation is uncertain, both because there is little evidence that Chinese mental hospitals have been used to silence prominent dissidents and because China has launched an aggressive defense focusing on Falun Gong members they say are truly mentally ill.
The campaign to expose psychiatric abuse in China began last year with the publication of a detailed report on the subject by Robin Munro, a British academic who served as the chief China researcher for Human Rights Watch during the 1990s.
The report relied primarily on articles discovered in Chinese psychiatric textbooks and medical journals that describe a system in which forensic psychiatrists diagnose "political criminals" with mental illnesses just as routinely as they do other criminals. These criminals are spared prison terms or execution and instead are sent to police-run institutes for the criminally insane, known as Ankang hospitals.
Based on statistics reported in the Chinese documents, Munro estimated that at least 3,000 people charged with some kind of political crime in the past two decades were referred for psychiatric evaluation by police, and that most of them were deemed mentally ill and confined in the Ankang system.
The finding was startling because China was widely believed to have abandoned the systematic abuse of psychiatry after the end of Mao Zedong's destructive Cultural Revolution in 1976, and many Western experts had praised Chinese psychiatrists for making significant advances toward international standards.
In addition, Munro's estimate exceeds the number of political dissidents confirmed to have been wrongly diagnosed and locked up in Soviet mental hospitals during the 1970s and '80s.
"There were only ever about 200 to 300 named cases of Soviet dissidents and others who were sent to mental asylums, though there are unconfirmed ballpark estimates that the numbers may have run into the several thousands," Munro said. "In China's case, by contrast, we have a wealth of official statistics showing that the absolute minimum number of political psychiatric detentions since the early 1980s is about 3,000."
But the evidence available against China is different in important ways from what critics mustered against the Soviet Union.
In the Soviet case, there were two types of victims of psychiatric abuse, a group of political dissidents who criticized the government, and a larger group of people -- deemed "troublemakers" -- with grievances against their employers or local officials. The West focused its attention on the political dissidents.
But the only evidence against Soviet psychiatrists at the time were numerous anecdotal reports about individual cases, said Richard J. Bonnie, a law professor at the University of Virginia who participated in two investigations of psychiatric abuse in the Soviet Union.
"We had allegations, and we had names," Bonnie said. "There was no documentation or any systematic statistical information of the kind that Robin has identified in China."
On the other hand, Munro has been unable to put names behind the numbers. He said the Ankang system is highly secretive, and the authorities generally use it against lesser-known "political criminals."
Only two political dissidents inside the Ankang system are known to the outside world. One is Wang Miaogen, who helped found the Shanghai Workers Autonomous Federation in May 1989 and reportedly was committed to the Shanghai Ankang Hospital in 1993.
The other is Wang Wanxing, a worker who unfurled a banner in Tiananmen Square in 1992 to commemorate the third anniversary of the military crackdown on student-led protests there. His wife, Wang Junying, said police at the time tricked her into signing papers indicating her husband was mentally ill by saying he would be released in a few months.
But 10 years later, at the age of 52, he remains confined in the Beijing Ankang Hospital on the outskirts of the city.
Wang said she has never been given an official diagnosis of her husband's illness. In 1997, in response to a State Department report that mentioned the case, the Chinese government said doctors had found Wang to be "suffering from paranoid delusions."
A few months ago, Wang said, authorities offered to release her husband into her custody if she agreed that he is mentally ill and took responsibility for his actions. She said she and her husband refused, and in response the hospital moved him to a ward holding violent inmates.
"How can they do this to a healthy person?" she said. "They couldn't charge him with a crime, so they put him in a hospital. It's just an excuse to persecute him."
Besides the two cases in the Ankang system, there have been many reports of individuals -- including labor activists -- who have been committed to other psychiatric hospitals for shorter periods, often without being charged with a crime and usually by order of local officials who consider them troublemakers.
In the past year, state-run newspapers have reported on at least six cases of people who were unjustly committed to mental hospitals, including a 60-year-old teacher who was confined for 300 days after repeatedly complaining about housing, and a 42-year-old peasant confined for more than 200 days after a land dispute with local officials.
"They took an innocent, normal person who challenged authority and illegally forced me into a mental hospital," said Zhong Huayuan, 63, a professor in Guangzhou who was committed four times between 1972 and 1992 in disputes with his bosses. "Some of the doctors don't realize what is happening, and they make you take medicine or get electroshock therapy."
Chinese legal scholars and psychiatrists blame the problem on poor training of psychiatrists and a weak legal system that does not protect patients' rights. There is no clear standard for when a person who has not committed a crime can be forcibly hospitalized, nor is it clear whether courts or doctors should make that decision.
Arthur Kleinman, a leading expert on Chinese psychiatry at Harvard University, argued that these cases do not amount to systematic political abuse. "We have evidence of a small number of psychiatrists and a small number of hospitals that seem to participate in political misuse of psychiatry," he said. "Even in these cases, there is reason to believe the problem is poor training, poor standards and poor practice."
Privately, Chinese psychiatrists asked why the authorities would bother putting dissidents in mental hospitals when they can so easily send them to labor camps or prisons. Munro said the government may find it more convenient to silence some critics by hospitalizing them than by putting them on trial.
He emphasized that most Chinese psychiatrists are ethical, and noted that official statistics show a steady decline in political psychiatric cases during the 1980s and '90s. But he said that progress was threatened when the government declared war in 1999 against Falun Gong, the Buddhist-like spiritual movement it labeled an evil cult after the group appeared to endanger the Communist Party's monopoly on power.
Falun Gong says 1,000 of its members have been forcibly committed. Chinese psychiatrists have provided information about more than 200 Falun Gong cases to the World Psychiatric Association, arguing that many of the people were suffering from mental illnesses. Association President Juan Lopez-Ibor said the material was under review.
The Chinese psychiatrists also argue that the forced hospitalization of mentally ill Falun Gong members is justified because they pose a danger to themselves and others. They noted that five purported Falun Gong practitioners set themselves on fire in Tiananmen Square last year.
"We only treat those practitioners who have mental disorders, and only with the consent of family members," said Zhou Dongfeng, vice chairwoman of the Chinese Society of Psychiatry. Given that estimates of the number of people who practice Falun Gong sometimes exceed 1 million, it is reasonable to expect several hundred to suffer from mental illnesses, she said.
But Fang and three other Falun Gong members who asked not to be identified said they were placed in mental hospitals only because they refused to renounce their beliefs. "They couldn't change my mind in the brainwashing classes," Fang said, "so they came up with a more vicious method."
JAKARTA (Reuters) - The Falun Gong spiritual movement, banned in China as an "evil cult", was barred in Indonesia from participating in an independence anniversary float parade on Sunday, local media reported.
Metro TV private television station reported that although the Indonesian Falun Gong Association had paid an entry fee of five million rupiah ($560), the parade committee wouldn't let its members march or drive their floats -- decorated in the Falun Gong's yellow colour -- through the streets of Jakarta.
"The committee barred us from participating in this parade after they got a call from the foreign ministry. We asked them what was the reason but they couldn't answer," Adiwarman, the group's lawyer, told Metro TV.
Ministry officials declined to comment, but China is known to look with disfavour on other countries which allow a free reign to the Falun Gong.
Indonesia normalised diplomatic ties with China in 1990 after around two decades of severed relations, and may be seeking to score points with Beijing, which last week criticised a visit to Jakarta by Taiwan Vice President Annette Lu.
Jakarta played down the visit as private but Lu managed to see some Indonesian officials and generate publicity for Taiwan, which China considers a renegade province.
China bans Falun Gong and has taken a harsh line toward its followers since some 10,000 of them staged a peaceful protest in 1999 around the leadership compound in Beijing to demand recognition of their faith.
The group practices a mixture of Taoism, Buddhism, traditional Chinese exercises and its founder's own ideas. It claims up to 3,000 members in Indonesia, mostly residing in the capital.
Indonesia annually holds a float parade through the streets of the capital to celebrate its independence. Indonesian founders declared the independence of the nation on August 17, 1945.
HONG KONG - Hong Kong officials on Saturday delivered another warning against the distribution of Falun Gong materials at an exhibition that showcases the art of an Australian follower of the meditation sect.
Annissa Chan, a spokeswoman for the Leisure and Cultural Services Department, which runs City Hall where the exhibition was being held, said officials warned the organizer Epoch Group Ltd. that it was against a rental agreement to distribute unauthorized printed material. Chan declined to elaborate.
It was the second warning from the government since the exhibition opened Friday. Officials have demanded that the organizer remove copies of a book, "The Golden Brush," which features painter Zhang Cuiying's paintings, Falun Gong information and a message from Zhang condemning Beijing's crackdown of the sect.
Zhang, who is an Australian citizen and lives in Sydney, was jailed in mainland China for her Falun Gong activities. She was not allowed entry into Hong Kong this week to attend the opening of her exhibition.
Officials said the book was "irrelevant" to the exhibition, said organizer Amy Chu, who is also a Falun Gong practitioner. She added the copies of the book were not immediately removed.
Law Yuk-kai, director of the Hong Kong Human Rights Monitor, criticized the department, saying it was "turning into a tool" to restrict Falun Gong activities.
A pro-Beijing newspaper Tao Kung Pao on Saturday questioned why the government allowed the exhibition, which runs until Monday.
"This exhibit is entirely promoting Falun Gong and the evil cult leader Li Hongzhi," Tao Kung Pao said in an editorial.
While banned as an "evil cult" in mainland China, Falun Gong is legal in this former British colony, which retains many Western-style rights.
But frequent protests by the group here have put Hong Kong's government in an awkward position. Although the government says it values freedom of speech and assembly, it also does not want to anger Beijing.
HONG KONG - A Falun Gong follower from Australia who hoped to deliver an appeal on behalf of the meditation sect at an exhibition of her artwork here said Friday she was barred from entering the territory.
Painter Zhang Cuiying, who was jailed in mainland China for Falun Gong activities, had intended to open an exhibition of her traditional Chinese-style art in Hong Kong's City Hall, the site of an earlier Falun Gong conference that sparked controversy.
Zhang, an Australian citizen, said by telephone from Sydney she had been kept out of Hong Kong when she tried to attend that conference in January 2001, and was again barred Thursday.
"I'm obviously on their blacklist," Zhang told The Associated Press after flying back to Sydney. "This is absolutely unacceptable for Hong Kong, which is supposed to have freedom of speech."
Zhang said her art has nothing to do with Falun Gong, but added she'd hoped to voice an appeal to China to stop cracking down on the group outlawed by Beijing as an "evil cult."
Immigration Department spokesman K.Y. Tsui declined to comment on Zhang's case, but said all applications for entry into Hong Kong are processed according to the law.
The exhibit of Zhang's art was organized by a U.S. publishing company, Epoch Group Ltd., which said it is not affiliated with Falun Gong although it carries writings by some of the group's followers in its Chinese-language weekly, The Epoch Times.
After the exhibit opened Friday, Hong Kong officials demanded that the organizers remove several copies of a 61-page book featuring Zhang's paintings and her message condemning Beijing's crackdown on Falun Gong, according to the paper's chief editor, Amy Chu.
Chu, who also is a Falun Gong practitioner, said officials told her that the book was "irreverent" to the exhibit, but she said the copies were not immediately removed.
At Hong Kong's Leisure and Cultural Services Department, which runs City Hall, spokeswoman Annissa Chan declined comment on whether officials had ordered removal of the books.
Falun Gong is legal in Hong Kong and frequently protests here against Beijing's treatment, creating a dilemma for the territory's government, which says free speech rights are sacred but also does not wish to offend Beijing.
Zhang, 40, said immigration officials gave no reason for barring her.
Australian citizens do not require visas for Hong Kong and normally are admitted without incident, but a spokesman for the Australian consulate, Wan Wai-lun, declined comment on Zhang's case.
Zhang said 13 uniformed officers, including two with bulletproof vests, escorted her to the flight back home.
Falun Gong has complained that during each of the last two visits to Hong Kong by Chinese President Jiang Zemin, more than 100 overseas practitioners were barred from entering.
BEIJING - China plans to tighten controls over television and the Internet, in a clampdown prompted by the banned Falun Gong spiritual group's hijacking of cable and satellite TV systems, a senior Chinese official said Wednesday.
Falun Gong sympathizers embarrassed the government this spring by tapping into local cable TV systems to promote the meditation group, outlawed in China as an "evil cult". In June, a state-run satellite system briefly displayed messages of support for the group in a TV broadcast after its signal was hijacked.
Qu Weizhi, vice-minister of the State Council Information Office, referred to the widely publicized June incident in a speech to a broadcasting industry conference. "This crime shows that the various hostile forces attacking the broadcasting system are skilled and professional," she said.
Qu also complained that Falun Gong supporters have used both the Internet and television to spread what she called "reactionary propaganda." She also said that the ideology of Western countries is penetrating China through the Internet.
The Chinese official said that China had to improve its security technology to address "hidden problems" in the hardware and software used in communication systems.
"We must take effective measures to guarantee information and network security," she said.
Qu said security means protecting computer networks and TV channels not only from hackers, but also from information that "disturbs the stable and united social order." China blocks Web sites containing what it considers hostile political content, including sites dealing with Falun Gong. The government controls all television stations.
HONG KONG - A group of Falun Gong followers facing arrest for refusing to pay their fines after being convicted of public obstruction, said Wednesday that an anonymous donor had stepped in and paid.
The Falun Gong practitioners had declined to pay as a matter of principle, saying it would mean "we admit we did things wrong" in a demonstration outside the Chinese government liaison office here, spokeswoman Sophie Xiao said.
The magistrate who convicted the 16 members of obstruction began preparing arrest warrants Wednesday.
But Xiao said someone, apparently a sympathizer of the meditation group outlawed as an "evil cult" in mainland China, had paid the court. Xiao said she and others in Falun Gong she had spoken to did not know who came up with the money, but it was not the defendants.
"We appreciate it, but from our point of view we're still going forward with an appeal," Xiao said. "We hope someday for justice, and we can pay them back."
The Falun Gong practitioners - including four Swiss and one New Zealand citizen - say they were illegally arrested and improperly prosecuted over the demonstration on March 14.
Magistrate Symon Wong convicted the Falun Gong followers last week, in Hong Kong's first criminal case against group members, of causing an obstruction and acting in a way that could cause an obstruction.
Some also were found guilty of obstructing the police or assaulting officers. Wong ordered them all to pay between 1,300 Hong Kong dollars (U.S. dlrs 167) and 3,800 Hong Kong dollars (U.S. dlrs 487) without imposing any jail time.
When they didn't pay by Wong's deadline of Monday, the court began preparing arrest warrants, a process that would have taken between two and three weeks, said Lena Ting, a Hong Kong Judiciary spokeswoman.
Some Falun Gong followers said previously that they would go to jail before paying fines for staging what they called a proper demonstration that did not obstruct anybody.
Although Falun Gong is banned in China, it remains legal in Hong Kong and frequently demonstrates here against Beijing's attempts to eradicate the group on the mainland. Falun Gong says the crackdown has left hundreds dead in police custody.
Hong Kong rights activists and opposition politicians called the prosecution a blatantly political move by the territory's government to appease Beijing.
Hong Kong officials have disputed the charge and said the Falun Gong followers were prosecuted only for breaking the law.
HONG KONG - One of the Falun Gong followers convicted of public obstruction during a protest against China's crackdown on the group said Monday the defendants were refusing a court's order that they pay their fines - even if that meant going to jail.
"We did not break any laws," defendant Wang Yiu-hing told reporters. "Even if we go to jail we're not going to pay the fines."
The Falun Gong followers filed court papers early Monday seeking to avoid paying the fines while they appeal their convictions, but Magistrate Symon Wong turned them down within hours, Wang said. The Falun Gong followers then decided they would not pay by Wong's deadline of late Monday, she said.
"The verdict is grossly unfair and biased," Falun Gong spokeswoman Sharon Xu said earlier.
Wong convicted the Falun Gong followers - including four Swiss and one New Zealand citizen - on Thursday in Hong Kong's first-ever criminal trial against members of the meditation group.
Wong fined the defendants between 1,300 Hong Kong dollars (U.S. dlrs 167) and 3,800 Hong Kong dollars (U.S. dlrs 487) but nobody got any jail time.
The Falun Gong followers were found guilty of public obstruction and of acting in a way that might cause an obstruction during a protest March 14 on a sidewalk outside the Chinese government liaison office in Hong Kong.
Nine of the defendants were convicted of the more serious charge of obstructing police. Three were convicted of assaulting the police in scuffling that broke out.
All sixteen followers have already lodged an appeal, and Falun Gong said it is weighing the option of taking legal action against Hong Kong or Chinese officials for what they view as wrongful arrests and an improper prosecution.
Falun Gong followers held a news conference later Monday to attack what they called a trumped-up case against the defendants. Falun Gong repeated its contention that the demonstrators had taken up only a small part of the sidewalk in front of the Chinese office and had not caused any obstruction.
"If that counts as obstructing the street, it would be hard to protest at all in the future," said Falun Gong spokesman Kan Hung-cheung.
The defendants were protesting here against the suppression of Falun Gong in mainland China, which has banned the group as an "evil cult." Falun Gong remains free to practice in Hong Kong, but its frequent demonstrations here have outraged Beijing's local allies.
Hong Kong police and the magistrate who tried the case said the defendants' Falun Gong activities were not at issue, but local human rights activists and opposition politicians called the case a blatantly political prosecution to appease Beijing.
Justice Department spokeswoman Winnie Wong declined comment on the defendants' request to put off paying their fines.
HONG KONG - Sixteen Falun Gong followers found guilty of public obstruction for protesting against China have filed an appeal against their convictions, a local spokesman for the meditation group said Sunday.
Falun Gong spokesman Kan Hung-cheung said they lodged an appeal with the courts on Saturday against a magistrate's ruling Thursday. Kan called the ruling groundless, and said: "The court only based its judgment on evidence from the prosecution."
Magistrate Symon Wong convicted the practitioners of causing an obstruction outside the Chinese government liaison office here during a March 14 protest and fined them between U.S. dlrs 167 and 487.
He did not jail anyone, although some of the defendants were found guilty of more serious offenses including obstructing and assaulting the police.
Meanwhile Sunday, a dozen pro-democracy demonstrators braved torrential rain and marched to a side gate of government headquarters to protest the Falun Gong convictions.
"Shame on the government for clamping down on Falun Gong, shame on the government for suppressing dissent," the protesters chanted as they were stopped by police outside the gate.
They accused the government of suppressing demonstrations through "dirty tactics" such as prosecuting protesters with laws intended to stop illegal street peddlers from blocking Hong Kong's sidewalks.
"They use such minor offenses to cover up their political prosecution," said veteran activist "Longhair" Leung Kwok-hung. "It's a clear attempt to clamp down on freedom of expression." The protesters dispersed peacefully after the march.
Falun Gong members say the convictions are a sign that China is exporting mainland-style suppression to this former British colony. Although Hong Kong reverted to Chinese rule five years ago, it retains many Western-style liberties such as freedom of speech.
Local followers of Falun Gong, which is outlawed on the mainland as an "evil cult," often protest against Beijing's suppression of the group, which remains legal in Hong Kong.
The court writ filed on Saturday said "conviction is against the weight of the evidence," according to Kan.
Hong Kong officials and magistrate Wong, who delivered the verdicts, insisted that the case had nothing to do with the practice of Falun Gong meditation.
The convicted Falun Gong followers include four Swiss and one New Zealand resident.
PHNOM PENH, Cambodia - Cambodian police arrested two Falun Gong followers under United Nations protection and sent them back to China earlier this month, an activist with the mediation sect said Saturday.
Li Guojun, 46, and his 39-year-old wife, Zhang Xinyi, were arrested Aug. 2 at their Phnom Penh apartment and a few days later forcibly put on a flight to Guangzhou, China, said Levi Browde of the Falun Dafa Information Center in New York. The center maintains contact with Falun Gong followers around the world.
Their arrests occurred less than a month after the couple was granted "persons of concern" status by the U.N. High Commission for Refugees, Browde said. The designation aims to safeguard people from being sent back to their country of origin where they would face persecution.
The Falun Gong is outlawed in mainland China as an "evil cult." Thousands of followers have been arrested and sent to labor camps since 1999.
It was at least the second time this year persons under U.N. protection in Phnom Penh were handed over to foreign authorities. Similar incidents occurred last year.
Browde said other practitioners of the spiritual movement in Phnom Penh are worried about their safety.
"They don't feel frightened or endangered by the Cambodian government but do know they are being monitored very closely by the Chinese Embassy and are very concerned what the Chinese government might do," Browde told The Associated Press by telephone.
The couple, who arrived in Phnom Penh from China in 1998, was known to meditate several times a week at their home with a small group of friends, Browde said. They lost their jobs teaching Chinese in May, and Zhang Xinyi was refused a passport extension by the Chinese Embassy in June, the information center said, citing unnamed sources in Phnom Penh.
They were now being held in a detention center in their home town of Changsha, the capital of China's Hunan province, but their condition is unknown, Browde said.
The center accused Chinese diplomats of prodding Cambodian authorities to deport the couple, a charge denied by the Chinese Embassy in Phnom Penh.
"I think they are lying. We never ask the Cambodian side to make arrests," an embassy spokesman said Friday.
Cambodian National Police Commander Gen. Hok Lundy said he "did not know anything" about the reported arrests and deportations, but did not deny they took place.
The Falun Dafa center blasted the United Nations for failing to protect the couple.
Acting director of Cambodia's UNHCR, Elizabeth Kirton, refused to comment. An official at Thailand's UNHCR office also refused Friday to discuss details of the case but expressed "concern over the reports" and criticized Cambodia for violating the 1951 global convention on refugees, which Cambodia has signed.
"Cambodia has international obligations and is expected to live up to them," the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity. "Not returning people to their country of origin where they will face persecution is the cornerstone of refugee law."
HONG KONG - The conviction of 16 Falun Gong followers on obstruction charges drew mixed reactions from Hong Kong newspapers Friday, with some accusing the government of going too far.
The Chinese-language daily Ming Pao said police had overreacted and "a wrong prosecution resulted in a wrong verdict."
A magistrate convicted the Falun Gong practitioners on Thursday of causing a public obstruction during a protest March 14 outside the Chinese government liaison office here - in a case that many critics called a political attempt to appease Beijing.
Ming Pao noted that the trial hinged on laws intended to stop illegal street peddlers from blocking Hong Kong's sidewalks.
"It was not meant to target any political dissidents, restricting them from demonstrating and exercising their right of freedom of expression," Ming Pao editorialized.
A pro-Beijing newspaper, Ta Kung Pao, supported the government's decision to try the Falun Gong followers, who included four Swiss and one New Zealand resident, and said they deserved to be convicted.
The defendants all received small fines but no jail time, even though some were found guilty of more serious offenses including obstructing and assaulting the police.
"The verdicts are completely based on the facts," Ta Kung Pao editorialized. "The facts are there. Their guilt can't be denied."
Falun Gong spokesman Kan Hung-cheung said the practitioners would appeal their convictions. He also said Falun Gong was considering taking legal action against Hong Kong or Chinese officials for carrying out what the group regards as illegal arrests and improper prosecutions.
When Hong Kong was reverted from British to Chinese sovereignty in 1997, Western-style freedoms of speech and assembly were guaranteed for at least 50 years under a government arrangement dubbed "one country, two systems."
Frequent local protests by Falun Gong, which is outlawed in mainland China as an "evil cult," however, have outraged many pro-Beijing figures who have demanded a local ban on their activities.
Hong Kong has stopped well short of that, and Falun Gong remains legal here, but opposition figures and human rights campaigners fear the territory's freedoms are being undermined.
Hong Kong officials and the magistrate who delivered the verdicts, Symon Wong, insisted that the case had nothing to do with anyone's Falun Gong practices.
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
[Home Page] [Cos'è il CESNUR] [Biblioteca del CESNUR] [Testi e documenti] [Libri] [Convegni]
[Home Page] [About CESNUR] [CESNUR Library] [Texts & Documents] [Book Reviews] [Conferences]