Sun, Nov 02, 2008 - Page 13 News List

Falun Gong fights back

Taiwanese Falun Gong members are taking on Hong Kong’s immigration department in the territory’s courts over alleged discrimination

By Celia Llopis-Jepsen  /  STAFF REPORTER

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Human rights lawyer Theresa Chu (朱婉琪) has been blocked from entering Hong Kong four times since 2002 at “sensitive” times. Like other Taiwanese Falun Gong followers who have been pulled aside by immigration officers and put on a plane back home, each time Chu had valid travel documents. She was not told why Hong Kong had issued her a visa in advance of her trip yet was turning her back at Hong Kong International Airport. Once, she said, airport police even strapped her to a stretcher to transport her to her return flight.

But Chu has also entered Hong Kong dozens of times, most recently last month — to appear in court. She is one of a group of five Taiwanese Falun Gong practitioners who have taken their grievances to court, accusing the territory’s immigration department of discriminating against them based on their religion. The case stems from an incident in February 2003, when some 80 Taiwanese Falun Gong practitioners were turned back at Hong Kong International Airport by Hong Kong immigration on their way to a conference.

The complaint was filed more than five years ago against Lai Tung-kwok (黎棟國), then-director of the Immigration Department of the Government of the Hong Kong Special Administration Region. In September, the case reached the Court of Appeal of the High Court, where Chu and her fellow plaintiffs finally saw some signs of hope. The court demanded that the immigration department provide evidence supporting its claim that the five people in question posed a threat to national security.

The court is currently reviewing an affidavit submitted by the immigration department and there will be a final hearing on March 12 to March 13 next year. “According to the affidavit the Hong Kong government immigration department provided to the court, the papers and related computer records about the five Taiwanese Falun gong practitioners were destroyed in accordance with standard procedures on March 12, 2003,” said Chu, who is not allowed to show the affidavit or quote directly from it to a third party.

Chu’s tale is not unusual. In June 2007 a dozen Taiwanese Falun Gong practitioners were blocked from entering Hong Kong. The movement was planning a demonstration on July 1, 2007, the 10th anniversary of the territory’s handover to China, and the Taiwanese intended to participate.

The US State Department expressed its concern about the June 2007 incident in a statement asking Hong Kong to “continue to uphold its high standards of personal and political freedom.”

In Taiwan, the Mainland Affairs Council and the Ministry of Transportation and Communications have looked into allegations that Hong Kong immigration authorities had asked Taiwanese airlines to block Falun Gong practitioners from boarding flights to Hong Kong ahead of the anniversary. Local airlines confirmed the allegations but emphasized they had not complied with the request.

Representatives of a Taiwanese airline attended a “meeting held by the Hong Kong Immigration Department on June 25, 2007,” the council wrote in a formal letter to Chu after investigating a complaint submitted by the repatriated Falun Gong practitioners. “They didn’t cooperate ... in dissuading some Taiwanese nationals from boarding and flying to Hong Kong,” said the council, which sent a formal complaint to Hong Kong and issued a statement condemning its actions. The council did not name the airline in question.

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