UN rights rep offers tip on Falun Gong - Ignore it

Reuters/February 6, 2001

Hong Kong -- A representative of the United Nations Human Rights Committee said on Tuesday the best way to deal with the controversial Falun Gong spiritual movement was to ignore it.

"I really don't know why it should be so controversial for the simple reason that in my country there are so many cults, we never bother about them," P.N. Bhagwati, India's former chief justice, told reporters in Hong Kong. "The best way of dealing with the situation of the cults is to ignore them," he said.

He said that if the group acted within the limits of the law then it should be allowed to continue in Hong Kong.

"It is a registered society and therefore it is free to function so long as it functions within the limits of the law. There is no problem. And so long as they are acting within the law, there can be no objection. and I don't think any government can take objection to them," he said.

Bhagwati is one of two U.N. delegates visiting Hong Kong this week to assess the human rights situation since Britain handed the territory back to China in 1997.

They are meeting some Hong Kong officials, legislators, rights groups and other non-government organisations.

Banned by Beijing as an "evil cult," the Falun Gong spiritual movement has been under an intense media spotlight since five followers set themselves alight in Beijing's Tiananmen Square on January 23.

Beijing has stepped up its crackdown on the group since the suicide attempt. One woman died of her injuries and the others were severely burned.

In Hong Kong, a highly autonomous "special administrative region" of China, the Falun Gong movement is legal and its followers have been largely left alone.

"We believe that the government of the special administrative region will conduct affairs according to law and not allow Hong Kong to become a base for activities to overthrow the central government," Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Sun Yuxi said in Beijing.

In recent days Beijing has warned that it will not allow the group to turn the territory into an anti-China base, raising fears that limits might soon be placed on Hong Kong's freedoms, which Beijing guaranteed would be left largely intact for 50 years after the handover.

On Monday, Beijing said it would not tolerate any foreign interference in its affairs, a week before a Dutch human rights official was expected to meet Hong Kong followers of the Falun Gong.

A Falun Gong spokeswoman in Hong Kong said the group was seeking a meeting with the U.N. human rights delegation.

"We will tell him the truth of Falun Gong and the brutal persecution in China and that we wish to have an independent investigation into the brutality," she said.

Supporters say 50,000 followers have been detained in China and many sent to labour camps without trial, while about 100 believers have died while in detention.

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