Falun Gong followers protest Hong Kong's planned anti-subversion law

About 800 followers of Falun Gong, a spiritual movement banned in mainland China, marched through downtown Hong Kong on Sunday to protest a planned anti-subversion law they say will jeopardize them.

Wearing their trademark yellow T-shirts, they walked through the streets of Wan Chai district to the strains of traditional Chinese music. They were escorted by about 40 police officers.

Falun Gong members said the proposed legislation would bring mainland-style oppression to this former British colony, which returned to Chinese rule in 1997 but still has its own legal system and Western-style freedoms.

"Don't let this evil law be enacted," said Zhao Ming, a mainland China citizen studying in Ireland. Zhao said he'd previously been detained for 22 months and tortured by Chinese authorities.

"Hong Kong government, don't sell your soul to a killer," said Erich Bachmann, a Swiss Falun Gong follower.

Some of the protesters came from abroad for an international Falun Gong conference held here on Saturday. The movement teaches that morality and health can be achieved through meditation and traditional Chinese exercise.

The group, banned as an "evil cult" in the mainland, claims many of their followers have been persecuted and killed by Chinese authorities.

It remains legal in Hong Kong, but followers fear they may come under threat once new national security legislation is in place.

Hong Kong has been constitutionally required to legislate against crimes against the state including subversion, sedition, treason and secession since it returned to China.

The government began work on the legislation recently, sparking fears that the city's civil liberties may be crushed.

Officials have toned down the proposed law, but critics don't think they have gone far enough. Part of the proposed law would let Hong Kong's government ban organizations linked to groups restricted in China.

The original draft targeted groups "affiliated" with prohibited mainland entities. "Affiliated" was later changed to "subordinate."

Falun Gong Hong Kong spokesman Kan Hung-cheung said Sunday the change was cosmetic and the gist of the provision is still the same.

The law aims to create a "remote control" mechanism allowing Beijing officials to ban groups in Hong Kong, Kan said.

A call to Hong Kong's government information office seeking comment was not immediately returned.