HK lawyers hit out at govt's talk of anti-cult laws

HONG KONG, May 25 (Reuters) - The Hong Kong Bar Association slammed the government on Friday for considering legislation targeted at religious cults, saying such a move would threaten the freedoms of expression and religion in Hong Kong.

The statement by the association, came amid speculation by the local press that Hong Kong will outlaw the controversial Falun Gong spiritual movement, which has been banned in mainland China as an "evil cult."

"No case of necessity has been made out for legislating against 'cults' in Hong Kong," said the Bar Association.

The safety of Hong Kong people has not been threatened by any cult, and even if it was, Hong Kong has ample laws to deal with such matters, it said.

"The Bar Council urges the Hong Kong government to preserve the rule of law by not legislating against an illusory threat when the legal armory it commands is sufficient to handle any 'cult' and its activities," it said.

Hong Kong's chief secretary Donald Tsang said on May 18 that the territory would consider all options, including legislation, when dealing with religious cults.

Tsang, however, said there would be full public consultation before specific legislation was prepared to ban the activities of movements such as the Falun Gong.

Hong Kong, a former British colony which returned to China in 1997, had taken a relaxed stance towards the Falun Gong, until the group held a high profile conference condemning Chinese President Jiang Zemin in January.

That prompted Beijing to issue stern warnings that any attempts to turn Hong Kong into a centre for Falun Gong, or an anti-China base, would not be tolerated.

The Falun Gong movement, which practices a mixture of Taoism and Buddhism and traditional Chinese physical exercises, has been accused of trying to overthrow the Chinese government.

09:23 05-25-01

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