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Court convicts Swiss Falun Gong followers

A Swiss Falun Gong member is taken away by police after demonstrating in Hong Kong last March Keystone Archive

Sixteen Falun Gong members - including four Swiss - have been convicted in Hong Kong of public obstruction and other offences during a protest against the Chinese government.

This content was published on August 15, 2002 - 11:53

It is the first time that members of the spiritual movement have been prosecuted in Hong Kong.

Broken HK laws

"The defendants had paid absolutely no regard to the public during the demonstration ...The defendants were in open defiance of the laws of Hong Kong," said Judge Symon Wong when passing judgement.

Each of the sixteen followers was fined between $165 and $485 but no one was jailed. They included four Swiss, a New Zealander and 11 Hong Kong residents, two of whom are also United States residents.

They were arrested on March 14 after protesting outside the Chinese government's liaison office in Hong Kong. The group denounced Beijing's crackdown on the movement, which is banned on the mainland.

Political crackdown

Political analysts said the verdict coincided with a harder line being taken by Hong Kong's leaders.

"If the Falun Gong people disturb the central government's office here and if the court finds them guilty, we all have to respect the verdicts," said Ma Lik, a local deputy to the Chinese National People's Congress.

Freedoms

Human rights activists accused Hong Kong of handing out the guilty verdict in order to please Beijing.

"This verdict once more shows the pressure from mainland China," said one of the Swiss defendants, Erich Bachmann. "The people are now being persecuted in Hong Kong."

A Swiss consular official, Annegrat Zimmermann called the verdicts surprising. "The Swiss government puts a lot of importance on the freedom of expression," Zimmermann said outside the court.

The judge dismissed accusations that the authorities were trying to crush the movement.

Freedom of speech was guaranteed for 50 years when Hong Kong was returned from Britain to China in 1997, but pro-Beijing officials have demanded action against Falun Gong.

swissinfo with agencies

Falun Gong

Falun Gong counts millions of members in over 40 countries.
It is a fusion of elements from Buddhism and Taoism.
The movement says some 1,600 followers have died in police custody.

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