Falun Gong sues over protest restriction

Sydney Morning Herald/January 30, 2006

A lawsuit by spiritual group Falun Gong against the foreign minister over protest restrictions outside the Chinese embassy would affect all Australians' right to demonstrate, the group's lawyer says.

Falun Gong had taken the legal action against Alexander Downer to stop him issuing certificates which prevented practitioners using loud speakers or displaying large banners outside the embassy.

In a hearing at the ACT Supreme Court on Monday, lawyers for Mr Downer successfully applied for an adjournment because he was overseas and hard to contact.

Barrister for Falun Gong, Bernard Collaery, objected to the adjournment and said Mr Downer had ample time to respond to affidavits.

"There are very vital and important issues at stake here and this case has been dragging on for six months," he said.

Outside court he said the case did not just affect Falun Gong practitioners but all Australians who wanted to demonstrate peacefully.

"Many Australians see this as a purely China protest, it's not, this matter relates to whether a foreign minister can reduce freedoms we previously thought we had in this country," he said.

"One of the freedoms we thought we had was to peacefully display banners giving a message outside embassies."

The matter has been adjourned to April 3.

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