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Last Updated: Thursday, 5 May, 2005, 05:49 GMT 06:49 UK
HK quashes Falun Gong convictions
By Chris Hogg
BBC, Hong Kong

Falun Gong members - archive picture
Falun Gong members complain of persecution in China
Hong Kong's highest court has quashed the convictions of eight members of the Falun Gong spiritual movement.

They were arrested after demonstrating outside a Chinese government building in the territory three years ago.

The case was seen as a key test of judicial independence in the former British colony, now a part of China.

Falun Gong is banned in China and its practitioners complain they are subject to sometimes violent persecution, but they are free to practice in Hong Kong.

Beijing has labelled Falun Gong an evil cult that threatens society.

In Hong Kong, there are no such restrictions.

But when a group of Falun Gong practitioners attempted to hold a peaceful demonstration outside a Chinese government office in the territory three years ago, they were arrested by the police and removed.

Now after a lengthy legal battle, the courts have quashed the convictions of the eight demonstrators who were arrested - who had been accused of obstructing and assaulting police officers.

Legal protest

Because an earlier court decision had ruled that their demonstration was in fact legal, the Court of Final Appeal decided the Falun Gong members should not have been prosecuted for resisting what was in effect an illegal attempt by police to arrest and charge them.

A spokesman for Falun Gong said the group was very pleased with the decision, which showed the police had abused their powers.

The court said the police had found themselves confronted with an extremely difficult situation and should not be criticised unduly.

But the fact remains that hundreds of peaceful demonstrations take place in Hong Kong each year. The prosecution of the Falun Gong followers was extremely unusual.

Some will see the quashing of their convictions as evidence of judicial independence in the territory.

Others will argue that this shows it was an ill-advised politically motivated prosecution that should never had been brought before the courts in the first place.

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