Verna Yu,HONG KONG, AP
A lawyer for Falun Gong followers suggested Tuesday that police blocked more space outside the Chinese government liaison office here than protesters who are on trial for public obstruction.
Sixteen Falun Gong adherents — including four Swiss — are in court facing the first criminal charges Hong Kong has brought against members of the meditation sect.
Defense lawyer John Haynes noted that after the Falun Gong followers were removed from the protest scene in a scuffle on March 14, police barricaded the area and took up more space than the demonstrators had.
Haynes was cross-examining a police officer who videotaped the incident, but the officer, Lam Hung-kuen, responded that he did not remember how much space was taken up by the police barricades because he had been too busy filming things.
The trial entered its second day with a prosecutor showing a videotape of the demonstration.
The case has raised concern that Hong Kong is clamping down on freedom of expression and other rights guaranteed when the former British colony was handed back to China five years ago. Falun Gong is banned on the mainland as an “evil cult” but remains free to practice, and demonstrate, in Hong Kong.
The 16 defendants face two counts each of public obstruction and some of them face more serious charges of obstructing the police and assaulting police.
Potential penalties range from up to three months in jail or a fine of 500 Hong Kong dollars (US$64) on the least-serious of the public obstruction counts, to as much as two years in prison for obstructing the police.
Prosecutor Robert Lee showed a police video Tuesday to try to prove that the demonstrators were causing a public obstruction.
Lee had said earlier that visitors to the Chinese office were forced to walk around the Falun Gong followers to enter, but that was not apparent from video that was shown on Tuesday.
The prosecutor also argued that the demonstrators created a potential obstruction by hoisting a banner urging Beijing to stop killing followers in the mainland.
Falun Gong claims that hundreds of followers have died in police custody under a crackdown by mainland Chinese authorities. Hong Kong, whose citizens were guaranteed freedoms for 50 years under arrangements for the territory’s reversion to Chinese sovereignty in 1997, is the scene of frequent protests by members of the sect.
The demonstration that led to the arrests in Hong Kong was held after the four Swiss followers had been denied permission to visit Beijing to protest there.
The defendants argue that their peaceful protest cannot have been illegal.
Hong Kong authorities insist that they were only trying to maintain order and not to silence Falun Gong.
The police warned the demonstrators several times to move their protest several steps away from the front of the Chinese office before police finally started making arrests, the prosecutor said.