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Hong Kong Fines Falungong Practitioners

August 18, 2002

August 6 - August 18, 2002

FALUNGONG
Kan Hun-cheng, a leader of Falungong in Hong Kong, revealed that the group is considering a civil suit in Hong Kong against some Chinese leaders, including President Jiang Zemin and Hong Kong police officers. Kan said that the 16 followers who were fined in Hong Kong for public obstruction and other offences during a demonstration against the PRC seek compensation from the police officers responsible for the decision to arrest them in March. This case marked Hong Kong’s first trial regarding the spiritual movement. John Haynes, the defense lawyer, said that these people, four of whom are Swiss nationals, “have the right to demonstrate in a public place, including outside China’s main office in Hong Kong.” While Falungong is banned in Mainland China, it is legal in Hong Kong, which was promised a high degree of autonomy when it returned to Chinese rule in 1997. The local government’s decision to prosecute and fine the 16 has raised questions concerning freedom in the territory. (Reuters)
*For three days leading up to the verdict on August 15, Falungong followers began a series of protests in Hong Kong calling for an end to Beijing’s repression of the spiritual movement and the preservation of freedom in the territory. The protestors said in a statement that the demonstrations were “to protest against Jiang Zemin regime’s exporting its persecution of Falungong to Hong Kong, which will put Hong Kong’s separate system, rule of law and human rights in jeopardy.” About 20 people started from a suburb and marched towards Hong Kong’s financial district. Another group of at least 20, among them 15 out of 16 defendants in the Falungong case, began a hunger strike that was planned to last until the evening of August 14. (ABC Radio Australia News, Reuters)

MINE ACCIDENTS
On August 12, a gas explosion in Lixin Coal Mine in Heilongjiang Province left 11 workers missing. The mine was closed for safety checks when the blast occurred. In June, 115 workers were killed in another coal mine in the same town of Jixi. (AP)

PSYCHIATRIC HOSPITALS
On August 12, Human Rights Watch (HRW) released its 298-page report on using psychiatric incarceration for political ends entitled Dangerous Minds: Political Psychiatry in China Today and Its Origins in the Mao Era. In the report, HRW and the Geneva Initiative on Psychiatry, based in the Netherlands, compare the treatment of dissidents in mental asylums to similar abuses in the former Soviet Union. HRW issued a statement calling for the end of “involuntary treatment in custodial mental asylums of dissidents and nonconformists, [which include] Falungong members, independent labor organizers, whistle blowers and individuals who complain about political persecution or official misconduct.” (AFP, HRW)

SENTENCES
On July 24, former Tianshui city policeman Li Dawei, 40, arrested last April and brought to trial in May, was sentenced to 11 years in prison on charges of using the Internet to subvert the PRC government, according to an anonymous official at Tianshui Intermediate People’s Court, Gansu Province. Li was accused of downloading 500 counterrevolutionary essays from the Web, storing them on a computer and printing them out into 10 books, according to the Information Center for Human Rights and Democracy. He was also accused of using e-mail, letters and the telephone to reach his contacts overseas. Li's lawyer Dou Peixin said the Gansu Provincial Highest People's Court has accepted an appeal from Li, but has not set a hearing date. (AP, Reuters)

CENSORSHIP
While there are approximately 45 million Internet users in the PRC, observers such as the director of NFO WorldGroup Steve Yap, say Beijing’s extensive system of blocking software, human monitoring and increasingly restrictive laws has experienced more difficulty censoring the exponential growth in online traffic. Along with pornography and other material deemed to be obscene or illegal, the government tends to block access to certain media organizations and to sites that pertain sensitive content, such as Falungong, domestic democracy movements and Taiwan or Tibet independence. In terms of content, duration and geography, the censorship appears to be inconsistent and unpredictable. (SCMP)
*While there are organizations working to breakdown the “great firewall,” 120 companies, such as Yahoo! agreed to sign a self-censorship pledge in March entitled “Public Pledge on Self-Discipline for the China Internet Industry.” After HRW addressed its concern on July 30 in a letter to Yahoo!’s CEO Terry Semel, the Internet company responded on August 13 defending the decision to limit its online content. Yahoo!’s associate general counsel Greg Wrenn said, “The restrictions on content contained in the pledge impose no greater obligation than already exists in laws in China,” and he also said that Yahoo! plans to conform to local laws in countries where it operates. Yet many critics argue that agreeing to sign the pledge undermines freedom of expression and the development of the Internet industry. As HRW executive director Kenneth Roth said, “Yahoo! will switch from being an information gateway to an information gatekeeper.” (AFP, HRW, NYT)

TIBET
On August 12, Tibetan sources said that police detained five Tibetan monks in their 20s about two weeks previously from Drepung monastery, Lhasa. Three of the monks are in custody for listening to cassettes of independence songs and two for trying to raise a Tibetan flag. They were detained shortly before the annual Shoton festival when a giant cloth painting of the Buddha is unfurled before tens of thousands of pilgrims. Local police officials said they were not aware of the detentions.

NORTH KOREAN REFUGEES
The PRC government is reportedly repatriating 10 North Korean defectors who were caught last November, after following South Korean Pastor Cheon Gi-won, 46, from PRC to the border region of Mongolia in search of asylum in South Korea. The defectors have recently been transferred from Mongolia's autonomous state Neo Monggol in China's Manzhouli region to Tumen city of Jilin Province, where the PRC usually hands defectors to North Korea officials. After eight months in prison and paying a fine of 50,000 yuan, authorities released Cheon on August 5, 2002 under the deportation order at the detention camp in Hailaer of the Inner Mongolia autonomous region. Cheon has helped 170 North Korean defectors resettle in the South since 1999. (AP, Joong Ang Ibo)
*On August 13, two brothers, ages 22 and 26, who claim to be North Korean, slipped by security fences and guards into the Albanian Embassy in Beijing and demanded political asylum in South Korea. They spoke a little Chinese and claimed to have worked four years in Jilin Province near the border between China and North Korea. Albania, which has diplomatic ties with both North and South Korea, informed both the Chinese Foreign Ministry and the South Korean Embassy. Two days later, the PRC government informed the embassy that the men will be allowed to leave the country after security checks to confirm that they are North Koreans and did not commit crimes in China. (AP, Reuters)

LI PENG LAWSUIT TO PROCEED
On August 8, US District Judge William Pauley ruled that the lawsuit against former Premier Li Peng for human rights violations in the Tiananmen Square protests as a direct result of his proclamation of martial law on May 20, 1989 could proceed. The US Government had challenged the legitimacy of the service of process because papers were served on the State Department security detail assigned to Li, instead of being given to him directly, during a visit to New York City in late August 2000. However, Judge Pauley stated that the function of US State Department security is to protect foreign officials, like Li Peng, from “physical harm, not service of process.” The case, developed in conjunction with Human Rights in China and filed by the Center for Constitutional Rights on behalf of four Chinese nationals and their families, seeks unspecified damages for summary execution, arbitrary detention, torture and other acts that resulted in thousands of casualties. (HRIC, Reuters, Riptide)

DENIED ENTRY TO PRC
On July 17, Li Xiaorong, an academic and human rights activist who is a naturalized US citizen was denied a visa to China to attend her mother’s funeral. After Li’s mother passed away on July 13, she, her husband and their two children applied for visas at the PRC Embassy in Washington DC to visit Li’s home country. The PRC Embassy official rejected their visas and refused to provide any explanation. After many attempts to obtain a visa, the US State Department informed Li on August 5 that there had been no progress since July 17. Li is now a researcher at University of Maryland’s Institute for Philosophy and Public Policy. She is one of the founding members of Human Rights in China (HRIC), which was created in 1989. Li is also a HRIC board member and the editor of HRIC’s website journal Ren Yu Ren Quan. (HRIC)

HUMAN RIGHTS DIALOGUE
On August 14, China and Australia held the sixth round of annual bilateral talks in Canberra. The visiting delegation was led by a vice-minister of foreign affairs Wang Guangya and included representatives of the Supreme People's Court and the PRC’s ministries of justice and public security. The talk was to focus on the rights of ethnic and religious minorities, and Australia said it would raise concerns about freedom in Tibet, the treatment of the Falungong movement and individual human rights cases. (ABC Radio Australia News)

ABBREVIATIONS
AFP…………Agence France Presse
AP………….Associated Press
HRIC………Human Rights in China
HRW……….Human Rights Watch
NYT…………The New York Times
PRC…………People’s Republic of China
SCMP………South China Morning Pos