Ottawa, Dec. 21 (CNA) Civil rights lawyer Rocco Galati said Friday that Canadian Falun Gong practitioners had been "very patient" before suing the Sing Tao Daily newspaper for libel, slander, negligence and incitement of hatred.

More than 150 Falun Gong practitioners filed a lawsuit Dec. 19 at the Province of Ontario's Supreme Court against the mass-circulation Chinese-language newspaper.

The main piece of evidence the plaintiffs presented to the court was a full-page spread from the Sept. 20 edition of the Sing Tao Daily entitled "Radical Religious Advocate Destroying the World."

The page carried photographs and commentary placing Falun Gong alongside such reportedly violent and doomsday religious cults as that of Aum Shinrikyo which released poison gas in a Tokyo subway several years ago, as well as comparing it to the terrorists who carried out the Sept. 11 attacks in the United States.

Shortly after the printing of the articles and photos, Falun Gong practitioners sent two separate letters to the Sing Tao Daily to complain about the slanderous reports. They later hired Galati to send another letter in October, but they said the daily failed on each occasion to respond satisfactorily.

As Canadian law regarding slander allows only a period of three months for the filing of a lawsuit from the date of the alleged infraction, the practitioners decided to file their suit Dec. 19, one day before the deadline in this case.

Galati told the press in Toronto Friday that the practitioners had been very patient and had given the Sing Tao Daily every opportunity to resolve the issue prior to filing the suit.

The Statement of Claim filed with the court states that the daily, "in publishing the expose, did engage in inciting hatred against an identifiable religious (spiritual) group which is contrary to the Criminal Code of Canada," and that the defendants "are parties and coconspirators in these hate crimes and crimes against humanity for which civil liabilities arise."

The 156 plaintiffs, including three from Hong Kong who had a photo of them meditating carried on the controversial page admitted as evidence, are each demanding general damage amounting to C$50,000, punitive damages amounting to C$20,000, a published front-page apology and retraction, and an injunction restraining the defendants from publishing any article about Falun Gong except the said apology.

Falun Gong was very popular in mainland China before 1999 when the Communist regime banned the movement and launched an all-out propaganda campaign and persecution against the spiritual and health movement allegedly due to fears that the number of practitioners had grown to outnumber the number of Chinese Communist Party (CCP) members.

Galati said Falun Gong is practiced in at least 53 countries around the world and that "only in China is it being targeted with persecution and propaganda."

"The entire world has condemned this persecution. The U.S. Congress and the European Parliament have passed resolutions (condemning the persecution). For the Sing Tao to stand on the side of this persecution is unacceptable," he added.

The filing of the lawsuit in Toronto came only nine days after the Superior Court of Quebec issued a court order that Les Presses Chinoises, a Chinese-language newspaper in Montreal, immediately stop publishing and circulating articles slanderous to Falun Gong. (By S.C. Chang)