New French law paves the way for SAR to curb sect

THE adoption of an anti-sect law in France has further cleared the way for Hong Kong to outlaw the Falun Gong.

The ``law to reinforce the prevention and repression of groups of a sect-like character'' drew local and international condemnation and was described as a ``dangerous template'' for laws to suppress the Falun Gong in Hong Kong and the mainland.

The law, adopted by the French National Assembly on Wednesday, allowed courts to shut down associations found guilty of a range of crimes. A controversial clause making a crime of ``mental manipulation'' was removed after pressure from churches and human rights groups.

Instead, it punishes ``the abuse of ... a person in a state of psychological or physical dependence caused by the exertion of heavy or repeated pressure or techniques liable to alter his judgment, to induce ... such person to do or forbear an act that is seriously prejudicial to him''.

Another provision will allow courts to close down associations after members have been convicted of crimes such as personal violence, illegal use of medicines or misleading publicity.

In France, polls showed high popular support for action against so-called sects. This followed mass suicides of members of the Order of the Solar Temple in 1994 and 1995.

A parliamentary commission drew up a list of 172 designated sects - including Quakers, Buddhists and unorthodox groups such as the Raelians - and in 1998 the government created an agency, the Interministerial Mission to Combat Sects.

Human Rights Monitor director Law Yuk-kai said the government would show it had no interest in maintaining freedoms in the SAR if it introduced a similar law.

``Hong Kong will pay the price, not just politically but economically, because the world will see Falun Gong's treatment as an indication of freedoms here,'' Mr Law said.

The move towards such a law was motivated by pressure from Beijing and as the Hong Kong government was not a ``democratic institution'', it would easily be able to abuse any such law. An anti-sect law could even be used to ban Taoism, Buddhism or even the Catholic Church, he said.

If banned, the Falun Gong would be likely to oppose the government openly, thus encouraging more followers.

He also doubted if such a law would stand up in court.

Bar Association chairman Alan Leong Kah-kit said the government already had a ``full armoury'' of legislation and common-law principles to cope with any ``undesirable activities that may arise from a cult'' such as offences against aiding, abetting or procuring suicide.

Hong Kong Association of Falun Dafa spokesman Kan Hung-cheung said there was no basis for the SAR government to borrow the spirit of the French law to outlaw the group's activities in Hong Kong.

``The Falun Gong is not categorised as a sect [in France] and is actually well respected by the government there,'' Mr Kan said.

The pro-Beijing Hong Kong Progressive Alliance yesterday released results of a survey conducted last month in which more than 30per cent of 7,306 respondents agreed the Falun Gong was an ``evil'' group.

Only 17per cent said it was a ``normal religious'' group and almost 40per cent believed freedom of religion would not be damaged by a crackdown on the sect. About 24per cent said a crackdown would undermine religious freedom in the SAR.

The Security Bureau said it was ``premature to speculate whether legislation is necessary''.

The bureau said it would ``keep track of developments and study the experience of other places in dealing with activities of evil cults''.

Nine Catholic organisations are expected to launch a letter campaign to lobby against the adoption of an anti-sect law.