HK Critics Urge Govt Not To Follow French Anti-Cult Law

HONG KONG (AP)--Passage of a new anti-cult law in France sparked fears Friday that Hong Kong's freedoms could be under threat if the government here uses a similar measure to thwart the Falun Gong meditation sect.

The Hong Kong government has taken note of France's law, but said it is too early to say whether similar legislation is necessary here.

Falun Gong, local pro-democracy activists, and mainstream religions have all expressed worries that any government action against Falun Gong could threaten people of other beliefs, too.

The Rev. Fung Chi-wood, a veteran civil rights campaigner, said he fears the government will use its political power to clamp down on religious groups.

"I'm highly concerned about the whole thing," said Fung. "France is dealing with a religious issue, but we're dealing with a political issue here."

"I hope the government will not act hastily," said opposition lawmaker Emily Lau. "There is enough legislation to protect the community. We have to make sure we don't overprotect and in the process undermine the people's human rights."

Falun Gong is outlawed as an "evil cult" in mainland China, where the government is fighting a fierce campaign to eliminate the group.

Falun Gong remains legal in Hong Kong, where citizens continue to enjoy Western-style freedoms that are a holdover from British colonial days, but pro-Beijing forces have been infuriated by Falun Gong's protests here against Beijing's suppression.

They want Falun Gong stopped and Hong Kong's government has said it will closely monitor the group out of worries it could harm citizens here. Hong Kong's No. 2 official, Chief Secretary for Administration Donald Tsang, has said Hong Kong will study anti-cult laws elsewhere.

Critics and opposition lawmakers say a similar move in Hong Kong would be unnecessary as Hong Kong hasn't experienced the mass suicides committed by cults seen in France.

The French Parliament Wednesday adopted an anti-cult bill which makes it an offense to "fraudulently abuse the state of ignorance or a situation of weakness (resulting from) serious or repeated pressures or techniques to alter judgment."

The law, most notably, provides the means to dissolve groups which have been convicted several times.