March 22, 2002

HONG KONG, March 22 (AFP) - Sixteen Falungong members Friday pleaded not guilty to charges of obstruction during a protest in front of Beijing's liaison office here in the first Hong Kong prosecution of Falun Gong members.

The four Swiss nationals and 12 local members all denied causing a public inconvenience after they refused police requests to move to a nearby area to continue their sit-in on March 14.

Some of the 12 women and four men also faced additional charges of obstructing police officers and assaulting the police officers while being taken into a police van and inside a police station, said Sharon Xu, a spokeswoman from the China-banned Falungong spiritual movement.

"The practitioners were disappointed by the charges as they did not constitute an obstruction to anyone," she said.

"There is no truth to the charges of assault," Xu said, quoting the practitioners.

"We are still hoping that the police will drop the charges," Xu told AFP after attending the court session.

The trial will be held from June 17 to July 2, and the Falungong protesters were released on bail of between 500 to 1,000 Hong Kong dollars (64 to 128 US).

It is the first time Falungong practitioners are being prosecuted in Hong Kong since Beijing [started persecuting Falun Gong] in 1999.

The group is not banned in Hong Kong, which returned to Chinese rule in 1997 under the "one country, two systems" agreement which guarantees its autonomy for 50 years.


Since the ban, Falungong says tens of thousands of its followers have been jailed or sent to labour camps.