CESNUR - Center for Studies on New Religions directed by Massimo Introvigne

"China heckler at White House prompts Bush apology"

(Reuters, April 20, 2006)

Washington, USA - A heckler from the Falun Gong spiritual movement, who entered White House grounds as a reporter, interrupted a formal arrival ceremony for Chinese President Hu Jintao on Thursday, prompting President George W. Bush to apologize to his guest.
After being welcomed by Bush, the Chinese president was just beginning his response when a woman, who had been allowed into the press section, started shouting. She was escorted away by a uniformed U.S. guard.
"President Hu, your days are numbered. President Bush, make him stop persecuting Falun Gong," the woman yelled. U.S. officials later identified her as Wang Wenyi, 47, a reporter with The Epoch Times, an English-language publication strongly supportive of the meditation movement that is banned in China.
"This was unfortunate and I'm sorry this happened," Bush told Hu, according to Dennis Wilder, a senior official with the National Security Council.
The Secret Service charged Wang with disorderly conduct under local statutes. The U.S. Attorney's office was weighing federal charges of "willing intimidation or disruption of a foreign official," said Secret Service spokesman Eric Zahren.
Outside the White House, hundreds of yellow-clad Falun Gong disciples, Taiwanese nationalists, and Tibetan youth group members demonstrated against Hu and his government.
The protesters denounced China's human rights record, its missile build-up near Taiwan and its 55-year-long rule over the Himalayan Buddhist region of Tibet.
"Communist Party = Tyranny + Lies," read a yellow banner, carried by one female member of Falun Gong, which China outlawed and brutally crushed in 1999
"Taiwan is not a part of China," read a placard hoisted by one of around 300 Taiwan activists, who reject China's claim of sovereignty over the island. Tibetans, mostly U.S.-based students, called for independence for their homeland.
A U.S. official said Hu's team was probably offended by the incident. "The hardliners on Hu's team are going to ask, why did it take so long for us to pick her up. It is not a good thing," he said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
Zahren of the Secret Service said the woman had passed through "all appropriate levels of security," including a metal detector. She was allowed into the event under a temporary press pass.
Falun Gong, which thrives overseas despite being largely stamped out in China, alleges that government persecution of the group includes a vast system of concentration camps, where doctors harvest inmates' organs for transplants.
China has vehemently denied this, but a U.N. investigator is examining the allegation.
In remarks at Hu's arrival ceremony, Bush did not mention Falun Gong, but he said he would discuss human rights. He urged Hu to allow "the Chinese people the freedom to assemble, to speak freely and to worship."

"Taiwan Falun Gong asks US to help stop China's alleged abuse"

(AFP, April 17, 2006)

Taipei, Taiwan - Taiwanese members of the Falun Gong spiritual movement requested Washington to use President Hu Jintao's visit to press Beijing to stop abusing sect members in China, despite a US investigation that found no evidence to back recent claims.
The group made the appeal to the American Institute in Taiwan, the defacto US embassy in Taiwan since Washington switched diplomatic recognition from Taipei to Beijing in 1979.
In the appeal addressed to President George W. Bush, the group asked him to raise the issue while meeting with Hu in Washington on Thursday.
"Recent reports have revealed many concentration camps in China where tens of thousands of Falungong practitioners are being held and face possible death," the group said in a statement.
China outlawed the Falun Gong, which combines meditation with Buddhist-inspired teachings, as an "evil cult" in mid-1999 and practitioners have subsequently faced often brutal repression.
The US government said Friday that a team of US officials had found no evidence in northern China to support claims that Falun Gong followers had been killed and their organs harvested in concentration camps.
State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said Washington had taken the Falun Gong's charges "seriously" and had urged the Chinese government to probe the claims.
Hu is due to arrive in the US capital Wednesday, before meeting with Bush the next day.
There are an estimated 300,000 Falun Gong adherents in Taiwan.

"China decries Falun Gong 'concentration camp' reports"

(Reuters, April 12, 2006)

Beijing, China - China on Wednesday denounced reports by the outlawed Falun Gong group that a Chinese hospital was a "concentration camp" taking detained practitioners' organs for transplants.
Officials from the National Traditional Chinese Medicine Thrombus Treatment Center in Shenyang, capital of the northeastern province of Liaoning, told a Beijing news conference that the Falun Gong reports were "totally fabricated."
"We haven't performed any organ transplants, because we don't have the qualifications or the means," said hospital vice president Zhang Yuqin.
She said two people the group had cited as witnesses "did not exist".
Falun Gong is a spiritual group that espouses meditation exercises. Chinese authorities tolerated it until 1999, when the group mobilized thousands to surround the ruling Communist Party's heavily guarded leadership compound in central Beijing.
Shortly afterwards, China banned it as a "cult" and thousands of followers who refused to renounce their beliefs underwent detention and re-education, prompting claims from the group and human rights activists of brutality and abuses.
But few of Falun Gong's accusations have attracted as much attention -- or such vehement government denials -- as the latest hospital claims.
Zhang said the hospital might sue an overseas Falun Gong Web site and newspaper after being flooded with phone calls from abroad following the report's appearance in March.
Falun Gong alleged that at one time the hospital had held up to 6,000 practitioners in a basement, using them for live vivisections, taking their organs for transplants and burning the corpses in an incinerator.
A Hong Kong-based spokeswoman for Falun Gong, Sharon Xu, told Reuters the group stood by the report and had credible witnesses.
"We believe they're true and stand by them" she said by telephone. She said the Shenyang hospital no longer held Falun Gong followers, but other hospitals across China were still engaged in "systematic organ harvesting" from its adherents.
The United Nations torture investigator said on March 30 he was looking into the allegations.
"I am presently in the process of investigating as far as I can these allegations ... If I come to the conclusion that it is a serious and well-founded allegation, then I will officially submit it to attention of the Chinese government," Manfred Nowak told a news briefing.
Zheng Bin, a deputy head of the Sujiatun district government in Shenyang, where the hospital is, said the Falun Gong claims were "an attack on Liaoning province and on China".

"Falun Gong attacks Chinese minister on eve of New Zealand visit"

("DPA," April 04, 2006)

Wellington, New Zealand - Members of the Falun Gong spiritual group, banned in China, plan to embarrass the Chinese leadership during Prime Minister Wen Jiabao's visit to New Zealand this week by launching a court case against his commerce minister, news reports said Tuesday.
They accuse Bo Xilai, who is due to arrive with Wen's 100-strong delegation on Wednesday, of crimes against humanity in overseeing the persecution of hundreds of Falun Gong practitioners during a crackdown on the movement in China.
One Falun Gong member, Wendy Cao, told Wellington's Dominion Post that Bo 'directed, controlled, supervised and authorized the campaign of terror and persecution' against followers in China's Liaoning province while governor there from 2001 to 2004.
But lawyer Carole Curtis, who said she would file a civil case against Bo at the Auckland High Court, admitted that tight security would make it unlikely that documents could be served on him personally.
She said similar suits had been filed on behalf of Falun Gong adherents in at least five other countries, including the United States and Britain.
China outlawed the Falun Gong in 1999, claiming the meditation sect was a subversive political group that was seeking to overthrow the Beijing government.
Falun Gong members regularly perform their devotions on the footpath opposite China's embassy in Wellington in a silent protest of what they say is the persecution of the movement.
Chinese leaders have complained on previous visits to New Zealand about demonstrations mounted against them by the Falun Gong, human-rights campaigners and Tibet supporters.
New Zealand has always refused to ban such demonstrations, saying its citizens have a right to legitimate peaceful protest. Officials said police will maintain a balance between allowing peaceful protests and protecting the safety and dignity of the visitors.

"Falun Gong drops Downer case"

(AAP, April 03, 2006)

Melbourne, Australia - Members of the Falun Gong religious movement have dropped their case against Foreign Minister Alexander Downer over restrictions on their regular protests outside the Chinese embassy.
Mr Downer began signing certificates in March 2002, barring protesters from displaying large banners and using loudspeakers outside the embassy to protest against Chinese government abuse of Falun Gong practitioners.
The certificates were issued under regulations protecting the dignity of foreign missions in Australia.
Lawyer Bernard Collaery, representing Falun Gong, told the ACT Supreme Court that Mr Downer had now ceased signing the certificates.
He said for that reason Falun Gong could end its legal challenge to Mr Downer's actions.
Under the agreement which settled the case, Falun Gong undertook to keep its protests within certain constraints while Mr Downer reserved the right to reissue the certificates if he believed it appropriate.
Small numbers of Falun Gong protesters stage vigils outside the embassy almost every day.
Celebrating their apparent victory, the group, complete with large banners and portable sound system, rallied outside the court building.
Mr Collaery told reporters this was a sensible decision and inevitable because of the impact on freedom of expression.
He said Mr Downer was apparently reluctant to justify his statements that noise and music from demonstrators was impeding the work of Chinese diplomats and offending the dignity of the mission.
"Mr Downer has not been able to back his claims by appearing in court with his own affidavit," Mr Collaery said.
"He has now avoided government evidence by withdrawing his certificates.
"This a remarkable win for freedom of expression in Australia, so long as the Falun Gong appeal remains peaceful and does not intrude upon the working space of the Chinese embassy.
"There has never been a suggestion that there has been any blockage of the embassy or disruption of its operations."
Mr Collaery said Falun Gong remained fearful a Chinese government agent provocateur could cause some incident during the visit of Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao.
"We are aware of the tactics of the Chinese government and we are monitoring very carefully the premier's visit," he said.
Falun Gong spokesman Geoff Gregory said the group had never played loud music outside the embassy, but had played recorded messages directed at passing Chinese tour groups.
That practice could resume, he said.
"We will not break any noise laws. If we feel it is necessary to use an amplifier of any sort to clarify the truth to a busload of tourists for example, we will do that within the small surrounds of that group of people," he said.
"We are always peaceful. We have never ever impaired the dignity of the embassy in any way. We don't shout abuse, we don't obstruct them, there's no aggression, we don't stop them going about their business in any way.
"Mr Downer issued these certificates based on a lie and based on pressure from the Chinese embassy to shut us down."

"U.N. envoy looks at Falun Gong torture allegations"

(Reuters, March 30, 2006)

Geneva, Switzerland - The United Nations torture investigator said on Thursday he was looking into allegations by the Falun Gong group that thousands of its followers were being held at a Chinese "concentration camp" and some had been killed.
The banned spiritual movement alleged this month that up to 6,000 people at a time were kept at a state-run camp in the Sujiatun district of the northern city of Shenyang, where it said some had been killed and their organs sold.
"The allegation is Falun Gong practitioners are being used for the sale of organs and human tissues ... According to the allegation nobody has so far left this concentration camp," said Manfred Nowak, U.N. special rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.
"I am presently in the process of investigating as far as I can these allegations ... If I come to the conclusion that it is a serious and well-founded allegation, then I will officially submit it to attention of the Chinese government," he told a news briefing.
Nowak, who visited China late last year after a decade of negotiations, reported last week he found torture widespread in the country, home to the world's biggest prison population.
China has denied earlier abuse and torture charges made by Nowak and asked the U.N. envoy to think again.
The Falun Gong bulletin said the allegations were based on "testimony from an insider and formal journalist from China", who also alleged the camp had a crematorium and many doctors.
Nowak, an Austrian law professor, said if the allegations proved true it would be a serious violation of many basic human rights, including the right to life and the right not to be subjected to torture or ill-treatment.
In his report last week he called on China to abolish its "re-education through labour" system and urged authorities to release all political prisoners and people held for exercising their right to freedom of speech, assembly and religion.
This included imprisoned practitioners of Falun Gong, banned in 1999 as a "cult" that threatens the government.

"Chinese government rejects organ-harvesting claims"

("IANS," March 29, 2006)

Beijing, China - The Chinese government has termed as "absurd lies" accusations by the Falun Gong that its followers were being killed for organ harvesting.
"No one will believe the absurd lies concocted by the Falun Gong cult followers," Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Qin Gang told a press conference Wednesday.
Falun Gong is an ancient Chinese practice for achieving moral and spiritual elevation through exercises and meditation.
In July 1999, the government had banned Falun Gong, presuming that a very large number of followers of the sect could pose a threat to their ruling power.
According to the Falun Gong, more than 6,000 of their followers were imprisoned at the Sujiatun concentration camp in Shenyang, capital city of northeast China's Liaoning province, and two thirds of them were killed for their organs and later cremated.
Qin, however, said denied the existence of the "concentration camp".
He added that Falun Gong followers had themselves realised the absurdity of their lie and changed their statement that the concentration camp was established in a small hospital.
"Can a small hospital contain 6,000 people?" Qin asked." Such an absurd lie is not worth refuting and no one will believe it."

"Taiwan's Falungong sect accuses China of harvesting organs"

("IANS," March 20, 2006)

Taipei, Taiwan - Taiwan's Falungong spiritual sect Monday accused China of running a Nazi concentration camp-style facility to harvest organs from their members and sell the organs to patients who need transplants.
The sect, citing information from a Chinese doctor, now living in the US, claimed that a hospital in Shengyang, in northeast China, has been carrying on the persecution of mainland Falungong members and the illegal organ trade since 2001.
"Since 2001, some 6,000 Falungong members have been sent to the Shenyang Thrombosis Hospital and only 2,000 of them are alive," Taiwan Falungong leader Chang Ching-hsi quoted the doctor as saying.
"The other Falungong members died after their kidney, liver, cornea or skin were removed," he added.
Ching-hsi said the doctor quit his job and immigrated to the US as he had nightmares after removing organs from Falungong members who were still alive.
According to the anonymous doctor, the harvesting of Falungong members' organs was carried out in the hospital's air-raid shelters and its adjacent compound nicknamed "the backyard".
Bodies of the Falungong members were cremated in a furnace, he stated.
There is no official confirmation of the human-organ trade allegations, but the doctor, judging by the sudden increase in the hospital's purchase of medical supplies, estimated that 6,000 Falungong members had entered the hospital since 2001.
Falungong, which literally means "Law of the Wheel", is a spiritual group, which combines medication and exercise and preaches truth, compassion and endurance. China banned it in 2001 after thousands of members demonstrated in about 30 Chinese cities against the arrest of several of their leaders.
The movement has now spread all over the world with millions of followers.
The Falungong group issued an open letter to US President George W Bush, asking him to raise the issue of China harvesting organs from Falungong members with Chinese President Hu Jintao, when he visits the US next month.
Several Chinese hospitals are known to use organs harvested from executed prisoners to transplant into foreign and overseas Chinese patients.
These hospitals advertise organ-transplant service on the Internet but do not reveal the source of human organs.
China has banned the sale of human organs, but has turned a blind to the illegal human-organ trade using organs from executed prisoners because Beijing believes the transplants can advance China's medical science, Taiwanese press reports said.

"China-banned Falun Gong members in US start hunger strike"

(AFP, March 09, 2006)

San Francisco, USA - US members of the
Falun Gong religious group announced the start of a relay-style hunger strike to protest alleged persecution of their peers at camps in China.
"I think people will continue as long as they can," said Sherry Zhang, one of approximately eight Falun Gong followers who began protest fasts in San Francisco. "We haven't set a time line yet."
Falun Gong practitioners staged a news conference outside the Chinese Consulate in San Francisco to announce they would take turns going without food for a day.
Among those fasting was Charles Lee, 41, who said he came to San Francisco in January after being released from a Chinese jail.
Lee, who is from Jiangsu Province, said he was jailed for three years on false charges of sabotaging a television station and that he was abused and brainwashed while in custody.
"They are brutal and capable of anything," Lee said of Chinese officials who have banned Falun Gong as an evil cult. "We must act to stop them as soon as possible."
Consulate officials said they had no official comment on the hunger strike and warned that Falun Gong was "an old group playing old games" that included "making things up."

"Media group slams China's 'brutal vendetta' against Falungong-linked paper"

(AFP, March 02, 2006)

Hong Kong, China - The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) has accused China of a "brutal vendetta" against independent media following the ransacking of the offices of one of its leading critics.
The Hong Kong office of The Epoch Times, a newspaper linked to the Falungong spiritual group outlawed in China, was broken into by four unidentified men on Wednesday.
They smashed a glass door at the entrance of the building and wreaked havoc in the offices, including entering the computer room in the print shop and wrecking office machines and computers, IFJ said.
"China's authoritarian leaders are maintaining a systematic policy of intimidation and censorship directed against dissident voices and independent media, both inside and outside of the country," said Aidan White, IFJ General Secretary.
"This latest vandalism is part of a brutal vendetta that cannot be tolerated."
Wu Xueer, a spokesperson for the New York-headquartered newspaper said its print shop had recently printed the Nine Commentaries, a series of editorials criticising China's Communist Party.
Wu believed that the Chinese authorities were trying to stop the paper's ability to print the Nine Commentaries in Hong Kong.
IFJ said the newspaper's employees have been the target of a series of threats and harassment in recent weeks.
The paper's IT director Yuan Li was attacked last month in his home in Atlanta, Georgia in the United States. He was severely beaten by a gang of Chinese men who stole only his work-related computers.
The Epoch Times in Malaysia has been blocked from publication due to the Chinese regime's interference, while its Sydney and Toronto offices have received suspicious envelopes in the post that are suspected of containing toxic materials, the IFJ said.
White accused the Chinese authorities of "systematically confiscating newspapers, intimidating advertisers, and threatening the families of staff members."
"This is a vicious witch-hunt aimed at crushing the voice of dissent," White added.
The Epoch Times, which has Falungong members among its staff, often takes a strong stance against China and reports on the persecution of the Falungong, banned in China since 1999 as an "evil cult".
A free newspaper that publishes five days a week, the publication was founded in 2000. It began as a Chinese-language newspaper and later launched an English edition.
It now publishes in 28 countries worldwide including the US and Australia.

"China Critics Say Crackdown Reaches U.S."

by Bernard McGhee (AP, February 16, 2006)

Atlanta, USA - Peter Yuan Li was beaten, tied up, blindfolded with duct tape and robbed of two laptop computers last week by three Asian men who burst into his suburban Atlanta home with a gun and knife.
He and other Chinese-Americans suspect it was no ordinary robbery.
Li, who works for a newspaper and Web site critical of the Chinese Communist Party, is one of several people tied to China's banned Falun Gong spiritual movement who say they have been harassed and hit with break-ins in the United States by Chinese agents.
They say China has carried its crackdown on dissidents to this country.
FBI spokesman Stephen Emmett said the bureau is looking into the attack on Li for potential civil rights violations and refused to comment on whether the Chinese government was behind it.
The men who broke into Li's home near Duluth spoke Korean and Mandarin and left behind certain valuables, including a camcorder and television, but took his computers, a phone and his wallet, according to Li and the Fulton County police report. They also demanded unspecified documents and pried open two file cabinets, he said.
``What surprises me is that in the U.S. they could do such things,'' said Li, a naturalized U.S. citizen who does computer work for the Web site of the Falun Gong-affiliated newspaper The Epoch Times. He now has stitches across his forehead.
Fulton County Detective Gerald Hightower said there is no evidence supporting Li's claim that the attackers were sent by the Chinese government ``to send a message to him,'' but the incident is still under investigation.
Asked about the beating, a man who answered the telephone at the Chinese Embassy in Washington but declined to give his name criticized The Epoch Times as ``a propaganda machine of the evil cult'' and then said he knew nothing about the attack on Li.
Falun Gong has been the target of a government crackdown in China, which banned the movement as an ``evil cult'' and a threat to communist rule in 1999. Members claim that they have been beaten and tortured and that hundreds have been killed in prisons and labor camps. Chinese authorities have denied any mistreatment.
Falun Gong members in the United States have long claimed the Chinese government sends people to harass and threaten them.
``It's always hard to know,'' said Mickey Spiegel, a researcher in the Asia division of Human Rights Watch. ``But certainly it's something that would need to be investigated.''
Reporters Without Borders, a Paris-based press freedom group, has seen attacks on Falun Gong members in South Africa, Hong Kong and Australia, but said the one in the Atlanta area might be the most serious case yet.
``We are definitely intrigued by the circumstances in which the attack occurred,'' said Lucie Morillon, the Washington representative for Reporters Without Borders.
The other cases of harassment in the United States mostly involve threatening phone calls. However, Alex Ma, a vice president for the San Francisco branch of The Epoch Times and a Falun Gong member, said his home was broken into twice last year, and in the first incident, two laptops were taken.
After the first break-in, Ma said, he got a call from an older sister in China, who rarely calls. She asked him to stop doing things the government doesn't like, he said.
Haiying He, a Falun Gong member who lives outside Boston, said he has gotten threatening calls. He also said that his father back in China once passed along a message from officials there that they were keeping an eye on him.
In another instance, Ma said, he got a message on his home phone that was a recording of a cell phone call he had had with another Epoch Times employee. Ma said he is convinced the incidents are part of an effort by Chinese government authorities to intimidate those who criticize them.
``You cannot say this is all coincidence,'' he said.
Ma, along with Reporters Without Borders officials, said the attack on Li may have grim implications.
``I think it's an upgrading of violence,'' he said.

"Falun Gong ally begins hunger strike"

("Taiwan News," February 15, 2006)

Taipei, Taiwan - The Epoch Times, a Falun Gong-supported newspaper, launched a one-week relay hunger strike on Tuesday outside the second exhibition hall of the Taipei World Trade Center to protest recent violent actions taken against members of their group by the Chinese authorities.
The relay hunger strike began earlier this month in North America, with similar actions being undertaken by other Falun Gong practitioners in Hong Kong, Macau and Malaysia.
A spokeswoman for the newspaper said Lee Yuan, one of the Epoch Times's computer engineers in the United States, was seriously beaten February 8 in his Atlanta, Georgia apartment by Chinese secret agents. Then the agents destroyed his computer equipment, with which he had maintained the newspaper's Web site.
Lee had reportedly succeeded in breaking through Chinese Internet restrictions to publish online the number of members who had left the Communist Party of China. The Epoch Times claimed eight million members have quit and resigned from the CPC since December 2004.
The relay hunger strike is scheduled to last until February 19, but organizers said it may last longer.

"Falun Gong protest exclusion from parade"

by Justin M. Norton (AP, February 11, 2006)

San Francisco, USA - Members of a spiritual group outlawed as a dangerous cult in China banged drums and cymbals near the city's annual Chinese New Year Parade, which had excluded Falun Gong for violating rules against political activity.
"We are peacefully trying to deliver the message that there shouldn't be any discrimination and they shouldn't extend discrimination from China," said Sherry Zhang, 35, a Falun Gong organizer.
The San Francisco Chinese Chamber of Commerce, which has directed the parade for nearly 50 years, claimed followers violated parade rules two years ago when they handed out anti-China leaflets while marching.
Falun Gong members accuse the chamber of discriminating against them to appease the government in China, where many chamber members have business interests.
Police agreed to allow roughly 100 Falun Gong members to hold banners and organize on the sidewalk on the parade route, but Falun Gong members said Saturday they weren't allowed into the Chinatown district.
Falun Gong members wore yellow and red jumpsuits often worn for mediation and exercise. Others held lanterns decorated with flowers and dressed in traditional Chinese garb from the Tang Dynasty, nearly 1,000 year ago. Several passers-by apologized for the group's exclusion from the parade and shouted encouragement.
"We're taking every opportunity we can to present the best of Chinese culture to the whole world," said Falun Gong member Joel Ng, 42, of San Leandro.
The controversy had a widespread resonance in San Francisco, where nearly 20 percent of residents are of Chinese descent. The city's Chinese New Year's parade is one of the biggest Chinese events in the country.
Falun Gong mixes Buddhism, Taoism and traditional Chinese thought with meditation and exercises that adherents say lead to improved health and well-being. Beijing banned the group in 1999 following a major demonstration outside the main government compound. Thousands of followers were detained and imprisoned.
Falun Gong member Li Mei, 31, said she only wanted the opportunity to participate in a major Chinese cultural event regardless of her personal beliefs.
"I'd like to be able to celebrate my culture and not be discriminated against," she said.

"Sect legal review stirs row"

by Albert Wong ("The Standard," February 07, 2006)

Hong Kong, China - The government has made an exceptional court application - a move more often associated with anti-terrorism procedures - in an attempt to maintain confidentiality over documents which shed light on an immigration watch list.
Chief Secretary Rafael Hui has already signed public interest immunity certificates, personally certifying that the documents will expose the inner workings of the immigration system and allow hostile persons to undermine the peace and stability of Hong Kong.
Government senior counsel Daniel Fung said Monday that if judicial review applicants were to insist on the disclosure of two specific immigration documents, the court should resort to a secret hearing; a "special advocate" procedure which excludes the applicants and their lawyers and employs an independent lawyer to advocate on their behalf.
The application was made in opposition to a judicial review made by Taiwanese Falun Gong practitioners who claim they were denied entry into Hong Kong because of religious discrimination.
The "special advocate" procedure is often at the center of the national security-versus-civil liberties debate, and is an exceptional court hearing where litigants and their lawyers are denied access to materials relevant to their own cases.
The applicants in this case - Theresa Chu, Liao Hsiao-lan, Lu Lih-ching and Chang Jenn-Yeu - were among 83 practitioners arriving in Hong Kong for an international Falun Gong conference in February 2003 who were detained and then sent back to Taiwan.
None of the applicants has a criminal record, all have college education or higher, are in professional jobs and have previously been allowed into Hong Kong when on business trips.
A substantive hearing scheduled for September 12 last year was turned into a preliminary hearing in the light of affirmations filed by government officials stating that they were denied entry because they were on a watch list.
In a judgment last November, Justice Michael Hartmann ordered the government to list what documents were at the disposal of the immigration officers who made the decisions, in relation to the applicants and the watch list.
"It is understandable, of course, that the applicants should be anxious to know why exactly they were refused permission to enter Hong Kong and the core basis upon which those decisions were made," Hartmann ruled.
Monday's hearing was rescheduled for the beginning of the substantive hearing for the judicial review, but has again been turned into another preliminary hearing in light of the government's commitment to the nondisclosure of sensitive documents.
In January, the chief secretary personally looked over the relevant documents and decided that it would not be in the public interest to disclose standing orders, the airport operations manual for immigration officers, and two individual documents relating to the applicants and the watch list.
"If these materials fall into the hands of persons hostile to the security system of Hong Kong or persons who pose risks to public order or public safety of Hong Kong - then putting this information in their hands would reveal the inner workings of the system and place them in a better position to circumvent immigration control - therefore pose risk to the peace and stability of Hong Kong," Fung said.
In short, the documents would reveal, "the guts of the system," he said.
Fung asked Hartmann to defer to the opinion of the chief secretary, since what is effectively a national security issue should be left to the government.
Even if the court was minded to conduct another hearing - a balancing exercise between the rights of the applicants and public interest - the applicants must first demonstrate the material relevance of the documents to their case and that the opinion of the chief secretary was unreasonable.
But, "they haven't even overcome [that] first hurdle," submitted Fung, since they are merely speculating over what may be revealed by the documents.
Furthermore, the applicants are not challenging the immigration department for failing to comply with standing orders, Fung submitted. In the context of the SAR, the issues involved are nevertheless "national security" issues which should not be subject to the judicial process.
Should Hartmann decide that a balancing exercise was necessary, then he should order a "special advocate" procedure, Fung said.
Hartmann noted that this procedure must only arise out of exceptional circumstances: "For example, you have the state saying a particular person may imperil civil society - a terrorist, in other words - there's no point telling him what the evidence is against him as that in itself will enable him to circumvent the security system."
Its intended use in the UK Prevention of Terrorism Bill was condemned by the House of Lords and the House of Commons Joint Committee on Human Rights last February.
Counsel for the applicants, Paul Harris, said they were originally considering adhering to a "special advocate" procedure as long as Bar Association chairman Philip Dykes SC was appointed to argue their case.
The government has rejected him as a possible advocate and said the appropriate counsel will be appointed by the secretary for justice.
Fung said that this application was not a deliberate "stonewalling" of information since the "bulk" of the documents ordered for disclosure have now been disclosed. Guidance to immigration officers on how to handle Falun Gong practitioners has not been disclosed because such guidance does not exist.
Harris will respond with his submission today.

"Falun Gong detainees find Norway home"

("Bangkok Post," January 22, 2006)

Bangkok, Thailand - Eight people connected to China's outlawed Falun Gong sect who have been detained in Thailand for the past month will depart Monday night for Norway where they have been a "permanent home," a Falun Gong spokesperson said.
"The United Nations has found a permanent home in Norway for the remaining five Falun Gong refugees detained in Thailand and their three family members," said a Falun Gong statement released in Bangkok.
The eight Chinese nationals were among ten Falun Gong members and their children who were rounded up by Thai Immigration police on December 15, last year, while holding a demonstration outside the Chinese embassy in Bangkok to protest the alleged rape of two Falun Gong practitioners by Chinese police in Hebei province.
The protesters, charged with not carrying their passports, have been kept at the Bangkok Immigration Detention Centre.
Falun Gong, which claims to be a religious sect, is outlawed in China. China has been known to put pressure on its close allies, such as Thailand, to suppress the group's activities.
One of the Falun Gong practitioners detained in Thailand and his son departed for New Zealand on January 15. The others will reportedly leave for Norway on Scandinavian Airlines SK 972 at 9 p.m. local time, said Teressa, a Falun Gong spokesperson in Bangkok.
"All 10 Falun Gong practitioners are refugees who escaped China and were living in Thailand under the protection of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees," said a Falun Gong press release.
Neither the UNHCR office in Bangkok nor the Norwegian embassy could confirm the planned departure of the Falun Gong "refugees."
"I won't say they haven't got a possibility of going to Norway but I haven't seen the documents here," said an official at Norway's visa section.

"Falun gong refugee flies to NZ from detention in Bangkok"

("NZPA," January 16, 2006)

Auckland, New Zealand - A member of China's banned Falun Gong spiritual movement who was arrested in Thailand capital Bangkok for protests outside the Chinese embassy there, has flown to Auckland with his four year-old daughter.
Huang Guohua and his daughter Huang Ying plan to settle in New Zealand after Mr Huang spent a month behind bars at the Bangkok Immigration Detention Center.
Mr Huang - who told journalists at the airport that he was pleased to finally find a home again in New Zealand - said he had not expected the Thai government to support the Chinese Communist Party regime.
"Cozying up to an evil regime is a pity and a shame... I hope that the Thai government can stand on the side of righteousness and bravely release the four Falun Gong practitioners still detained," he said.
The Epoch Times, a Hong Kong newspaper and website linked to the Falun Gong movement said his release followed negotiations by the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) and the New Zealand government.
About 40 supporters farewelled them at Bangkok's Don Muang International Airport.
Mr Huang, a Chinese citizen, was arrested, along with his daughter, while they were demonstrating outside the Chinese embassy on December 15.
Six other protesters were also taken into custody that day, including two other children. The three children were later released, but four adults remain behind bars.
The detainees said they were all refugees recognised by the UNHCR as fleeing Chinese persecution for their beliefs.
They said the demonstration at the embassy was to protest the forceful abduction and violent rape of two female practitioners by a Chinese police officer in Hebei province, China, and that the arrests in Bangkok had been requested by the Chinese embassy.
Thai officials should not have had police escort Mr Huang to the airport directly from detention, said Teresa Vilaidaraga, 29, a Thai Falun Gong follower.
The Epoch Times said Mr Huang's claims of severe persecution and torture by Chinese authorities - including losing his wife, who was three-months pregnant at the time of her death - had been documented by several international human rights bodies, including the UN Human Rights Commission.
It said that the other four detainees had been given no hope UNHCR could secure their release in Thailand, and the organisation was seeking a home for them in a third country.

"Falungong demand freedom for arrested members"

by Achara Ashayagachat ("Bangkok Post," January 06, 2006)

Bangkok, Thailand - A dozen of Falungong adherents staged a peaceful rally opposite the Chinese embassy yesterday, calling for the release of five Chinese followers being detained at Bangkok immigration office for the past three weeks.
They vowed to hold a mediation protest every Friday until the police free the five detainees.
The gathering also aims at protesting against Chinese government's persecution of Falungong followers in China.
Falungong is an amalgam of religions, meditation and exercises that the Chinese government considers an evil cult.
Paisal Suriyawongpaisal, a scholar on China and Falungong practitioner, said the Thai public should learn more about how Beijing has violated human rights of their own people.
He also condemned the arrest of Falungong members by Thai officials last month, saying that the detention demonstrated that Bangkok considered appeasing China more important than protection of basic human rights.
Eight Chinese refugees, who were members of the spiritual movement, have been arrested after protesting in front of the Chinese embassy for a week.
They were all persons of concern (PoC) under the protection the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR).
Two young practitioners were released right away, but another six protesters, including a four-year-old Huang Ying, were detained at the Immigration Detention Center at Suan Plu.
Huang Ying was released from the detention center to family friends last week, but her father is still behind bars.
``We are concerned of their plight since we've learned that the officers would not release them soon. We've already filed a complaint to the UNHCR headquarters in Geneva,'' said the Canadian Jan Jekielek, member of the Falungong Human Rights Working Group.
A 14-year-old girl Wang Anqi, who was arrested and released earlier, said the police have asked UNHCR to guarantee that the detainees would not stage a protest again and they would be released.

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