SCMP Friday, February 9, 2001
Tung pledges to monitor sect
Tung Chee-hwa yesterday vowed to keep a close watch on Falun Gong activities, warning that the administration would not allow anyone to abuse Hong Kong's freedoms and tolerance.
In his first comments since Beijing issued a warning to the sect last week, the Chief Executive branded the Falun Gong as "more or less bearing some characteristics of an evil cult".
He said Hong Kong was a peaceful and free society that subscribed to the rule of law, and pledged to stand by constitutional principles and the law.
"On the basis of these principles, the HKSAR Government will observe closely the activities of the Falun Gong in Hong Kong and will not allow anyone to abuse Hong Kong's freedoms and tolerance to affect public peace and order in the HKSAR, or public peace and order in the mainland," Mr Tung said. But he stopped short of saying whether he planned to ban the sect's activities in Hong Kong.
Taking the initiative during a 75-minute Legco Question Time, Mr Tung dismissed suggestions that the Government would speed up introduction of an anti-subversion law in response to recent activities of the Falun Gong.
He was speaking a week after Secretary for Security Regina Ip Lau Suk-yee provoked concern by saying the Government would keep a close watch on the sect.
Her comments followed a warning by Beijing that any attempt to turn Hong Kong into a Falun Gong activity centre for subversion against China should not be tolerated.
A Beijing Liaison Office spokesman was quoted by the China News Agency as saying that recent activities of the sect in the SAR had become political and links were being made with international organisations.
Mr Tung said he had been shocked by a TV report last week purporting to show Falun Gong followers setting themselves alight in Tiananmen Square.
"I certainly hope that such incidents will not happen in Hong Kong and believe that the people of Hong Kong share this view," he said. "As the HKSAR Government, we have a responsibility to be alert and to follow developments closely."
Asked whether there was any evidence that the Falun Gong had made use of Hong Kong as a base to conduct activities to subvert the central Government or disrupt peace in Hong Kong and on the mainland, Mr Tung replied: "Hong Kong Buddhism has disavowed any connection with the sect . . . It is not right to regard it as a mainstream religion.
"From the reports, it [the sect] indeed endangers a lot of people on the mainland . . . Recently, the activities of the Falun Gong in Hong Kong have escalated and they have targeted the central Government.
"As to whether they are doing physical exercise or conducting religious activities, all of us can make our judgment. What I can say is that, at this moment, we are closely watching the Falun Gong activities."
Beijing banned the movement in July 1999 claiming it was an evil cult responsible for the death of more than 1,600 followers.
Falun Gong's Hong Kong spokesman, Kan Hung-cheung, expressed regrets over Mr Tung's definition of the sect as an "evil cult", alleging that the attempted group suicide in Beijing was wrongly attributed to sect followers to discredit the movement.
He said Mr Tung should not perpetuate this claim. "To do so would stir up Hong Kong people's irrational sentiments against the Falun Gong. It will be no good for social stability. That's why Mr Tung's remarks were irresponsible and dangerous. We found them very regrettable."
Democratic Party chairman Martin Lee Chu-ming accused Mr Tung of putting on a pair of "Beijing spectacles" to look at the sect.
"If we carry on like this and the central Government isn't nice to the Catholics, or Protestants, or the Buddhists, either, and seeks to brand all of them as cults, will Hong Kong call them cults, too?" Mr Lee asked.
Democrat James To Kun-sun, deputy chairman of the Legco security panel, accused Mr Tung of acting beyond what a statesman should do by "bad-mouthing" the Falun Gong.
But Tsang Yok-sing, chairman of the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment of Hong Kong, said it would be impossible for Mr Tung to deviate from Beijing's definition of the Falun Gong.
"Constitutionally, Mr Tung assumes a dual role. Not only does he represent the SAR but also he represents the central Government," Mr Tsang said.
Yesterday the semi-official China News Service accused the Information Centre for Human Rights and Democracy - a Hong Kong-based human rights watchdog founded by exiled pro-democracy activists - of accepting funding from the Falun Gong and acting as its spokesman. The report drew a prompt denial from the group, which said it would consider legal action against the news agency.