Falun Gong members in S'pore could have avoided prison

SINGAPORE (AP) - Falun Gong followers are allowed to carry out activities in Singapore as long as they obey the law, police said Friday after seven members of the sect were jailed for obstructing an officer.

Falun Gong - banned in China as an evil cult - is legally registered in Singapore as the ''Falun Buddha Society.''

A police statement Friday said Falun Gong followers broke the law because they did not obtain a required permit before holding a Dec. 31 vigil in a Singapore park to honor fellow believers who have reportedly died in custody in China.

Six men and one woman, most of them Chinese citizens, were given one-month jail sentences Thursday for obstructing police who dispersed the rally.

Another eight members of the sect were fined 1,000 Singapore dollars (dlrs 556) each on Friday for taking part in the unauthorized assembly.

All 15 pleaded guilty to the offenses.

Public demonstrations are extremely rare in tightly controlled Singapore, a Southeast Asian city-state whose 4 million people are mostly ethnic Chinese.

Police said they had approved five out of 14 applications for permits to hold gatherings submitted by Falun Gong followers in 1999 and 2000.

One application had been withdrawn by the applicant and police rejected eight because ''they were likely to cause a breach of peace,'' the police statement said.

China banned Falun Gong in 1999 as a dangerous cult and a threat to Communist Party authority. Thousands of suspected followers have been detained there and human rights group say more than 100 have died in Chinese custody.

Liu Yan Tao, first secretary of the Chinese Embassy in Singapore, said the Chinese government ''understood and respected'' the Singapore court's action toward the Falun Gong members.

Liu, who was in court Thursday, angrily criticized the Falun Gong followers for ''attacking the Chinese government.''

The Chinese followers said they faced danger if jail sentences caused them to lose their Singapore visas. Most are studying and working in Singapore.

Singapore immigration officials on Friday could not confirm whether the jailed Falun Gong members from China would be able to remain in Singapore after serving their sentences.

There are about 1,000 Falun Gong followers in Singapore. The spiritual movement, which has millions of members in China and other countries, teaches Buddhist-like meditation and exercise as keys to morality and health. - AP