UN rights group tells of concern over Falun Gong

MEMBERS of a United Nations rights committee were said yesterday to have expressed concern at Hong Kong's treatment of the Falun Gong and to have taken ``very seriously'' the right of abode issue.

Their views were related by members of a Hong Kong delegation who attended a meeting of the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights in Geneva.

Returning to Hong Kong last night, Frontier Legislator Emily Lau Wai-hing said the committee had spent ``plenty of time'' discussing the Falun Gong issue.

She said one member in particular had expressed concern at Chief Executive Tung Chee-hwa's recent ``aggressive'' remarks on the sect banned as an ``evil cult'' by Beijing.

She said the committee felt peaceful protests by the sect should be permitted even during President Jiang Zemin's visit next week.

Ms Lau said Secretary for Home Affairs Lam Woon-kwong, who led the government delegation to the meeting, had told delegates the Falun Gong could carry out any activities in Hong Kong within the law.

Mr Lam had said, however, that ``there were people'' who did not view the sect as a religious society which is what it is registered as under the Societies Ordinance.

``He did not identify those people but we all know that is Tung Chee-hwa,'' Ms Lau said.

She said the committee member, from Egypt, had also worried about the detention of Hong Kong academics on the mainland.

There were fears that the SAR could not protect its citizens on the mainland.

Another delegate, Ngan Siu-lai of the Hong Kong Parents' Committee, said many committee members had accused the SAR of violating the Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights by continuing to separate cross-border families.

She said members had taken the abode issue very seriously.

Human Rights Monitor director Law Yuk-kai, who also attended, said that if the SAR government ignored the committee's recommendations it would damage its international image.

The committee will release its report on economic, social and cultural rights in Hong Kong on Friday.

The Hong Kong delegation included included 10 government officials and about 20 non-government representatives.