Friday, March 15, 2002; 6:41 AM
HONG KONG -- Authorities filed obstruction charges Friday against 16 Falun Gong followers who scuffled with police outside China's liaison office a day earlier - the first charges filed against group members in Hong Kong.
The Falun Gong [...] remain legal in Hong Kong, where supporters frequently protest the brutal Chinese crackdown. Human rights groups say hundreds of Falun Gong followers have died while being detained in China.
Those arrested - 12 Hong Kong and four Swiss Falun Gong followers - had staged a protest outside the Chinese liaison office on Thursday. The arrests occurred after the Chinese liaison office complained.
Falun Gong spokesman Kan Hung-cheung said it appeared Hong Kong police were being pressured by China and said the charges should be dropped.
"They have arrested them wrongly and charged them wrongly," Kan said. "This is a double mistake. It will hurt the citizens of Hong Kong."
Police Superintendent Michael Chiu said Friday that two counts of obstruction were filed against the followers because they ignored police orders to move their demonstration to the side of the building.
Chiu said the first count carried a sentence of up to three months in jail and $64 in fines. The second count carried up to three months in jail and $640 in fines.
The Swiss followers were released on bail late Thursday and resumed their protest Friday in the area approved by police.
A magistrate freed the remaining practitioners on bail Friday after ordering them to return March 22.
Earlier, protester Erich Bachmann of Kreuzlingen, Switzerland, said police threatened to deport the foreign Falun Gong followers if they did not cooperate and move their protest. Chiu said that was false.
China has deported foreign Falun Gong followers in the past.