- The Washington Times - Sunday, August 26, 2001

HONG KONG — Police arrested 10 followers of the Falun Gong meditation movement yesterday for blocking a sidewalk in front of a Chinese government office and refusing to leave, a move that may signal a tougher line against the group by Hong Kong authorities.
It was the first time Hong Kong's leaders have taken action against local adherents of the group, which is outlawed in mainland China as an "evil cult," and the Falun Gong complained there had been no legitimate reason for the arrests.
China's central government is fighting to eradicate Falun Gong in the mainland, but the group remains legal in Hong Kong and frequently protests here against Beijing's suppression, to the dismay of Beijing's local political allies who have demanded some sort of clampdown.
That would be difficult, given the freedoms of speech and religion that exist in Hong Kong four years after the former British colony was returned to Chinese sovereignty, but Hong Kong officials have gradually stepped up their rhetoric against Falun Gong, and they say they are keeping a close eye on the group's activities.
"Our protest ran very peacefully," Falun Gong member Kan Hung-cheung said in a telephone interview. "I don't see why the police have done such a thing to us."
The protesters, dressed in the movement's trademark yellow T-shirts and staging a hunger strike, were all Hong Kong residents, according to a spokeswoman for Falun Gong.
Hong Kong Chief Executive Tung Chee-hwa and other top government officials have characterized Falun Gong as a "cult" but stopped short of any action against the group.
Police spokesman Ricky Chong said the Falun Gong members were arrested for obstructing the public, but he said authorities had not yet decided whether to charge them. They were being detained and questioned yesterday afternoon, Mr. Chong said.
"We have warned them many times that their sit-in protests have obstructed the public," regional police commander Ng Wing-tai told reporters at the scene.
"On top of that, we have received two complaints from the public about their obstruction," Mr. Ng said, without disclosing who had complained.
Some of the Falun Gong followers shouted loudly, but none resisted as police picked them up and took them away. The group remains legal in Hong Kong.
The Falun Gong adherents gathered outside the Chinese liaison office in the morning and said they would refuse food in their latest protest against Beijing's crackdown on Falun Gong that they say has led to the deaths of 268 persons in Chinese custody.
Mr. Kan said the police have controlled demonstrations outside the Chinese office more tightly than they have elsewhere.
Police insisted Falun Gong had not been singled out, and Security Bureau spokeswoman Patricia Mok said Falun Gong was free to keep practicing and speaking its mind here as long as its members obey the law.


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