May 5, 2002

Falun Gong activists claim they are the victims of a political plot after the Government walled off their protest site outside Beijing's liaison office for flowerbeds to be planted there.

Group spokeswoman Hui Yee-han said members found the area by the front entrance of the office in Western district sealed off on Thursday night in a move she claimed was prompted by pressure from Beijing.

A Home Affairs Department spokeswoman rejected the claims, saying the project was simply an environmental improvement measure. She added it was planned with proper consultation of residents and businesses and just happened to be on the site of the protests.

Since the liaison office opened last summer, Falun Gong members have gathered daily to protest against the treatment of practitioners on the mainland. Sixteen members were charged with obstruction in March. "It is a political concern," Ms Hui said. "Police have been receiving complaints from the liaison office for months that we are blocking the entrance, even though the pavement is actually more than 10 metres wide.

"This way they can bar not only Falun Gong members but any others who might want to protest outside the office."

Ms Hui said police had suggested the group move to a spot in front of a police station facing the liaison office's back door, but a spokeswoman denied the force had recommended alternative sites.

[Falun Gong Association] is considering whether it can carry on protesting in front of the office by reducing the number of demonstrators from 20 to three.

Innovative methods to deal with protests have been employed in the past. In 1997, protests against then-premier Li Peng's participation in the handover ceremony at the Convention Centre were drowned out by police playing Beethoven's Fifth Symphony through loudspeakers.