Falun Gong followers ask to stay in Singapore

SINGAPORE (AP) Thirteen Falun Gong followers arrested for holding a vigil in a park pleaded Thursday to be fined rather sentenced to jail, saying prison records might get them sent back to China.

The 13 Chinese citizens, along with two Singaporeans, pleaded guilty to illegally holding a vigil in Singapore on Dec. 31 in memory of Falun Gong followers they say died in custody in China.

They face up to three months in jail and maximum fines of $2,800.

Defense lawyers read letters at Thursday's hearing in which the Chinese defendants said they were terrified of returning to China.

"I cannot imagine what will happen to my wife and daughter if we were sent back to China," wrote Gao Hau, 28, in a letter read by his lawyer.

Beijing banned the Falun Gong spiritual movement in 1999, calling it a threat to the Communist Party's grip on power. Thousands of suspected followers have been detained in China.

Lawyers for the Chinese defendants asked the Singaporean judge to limit their punishment to fines. Jail terms might give immigration officials a reason to revoke their visas or make it harder for them to get visas elsewhere, they said.

Prosecutor David Chew argued that the 15 defendants remained in the park hours after police orders prompted dozens of other Falun Gong followers to leave.

"These 15 accused had ample time to join the others. They had ample time to consider the implications of their act," he told the court.

Chew did not, however, recommend that the nine men and six women be jailed.