Falungong says China blocked Hong Kong dance shows

Tokyo, Japan - The Falungong religious group, which is banned in China, Wednesday accused Beijing of forcing a dance troupe linked to the sect to cancel a Hong Kong performance tour by denying visas to key members.

The rejection of entry visas for seven production crew of the Shen Yun Performing Arts troupe "is absolutely part of the persecution of Falungong by the Chinese Communist Party," said Japanese Falungong member Kanae Yamakawa.

"We protest against the Hong Kong authorities over their arbitrary decision of a visa denial ... There is nothing wrong with the Shen Yun Performing Arts group in their visa application process," she told reporters in Tokyo.

China outlawed Falungong -- a religion loosely based on Buddhist, Taoist and Confucian philosophies -- in 1999 as "an evil cult" following a silent mass gathering in Beijing by its members, who report often brutal repression.

The New York-based dance company said it had to cancel seven sold-out shows between January 27 and 31 at the Hong Kong Academy for Performing Arts? Lyric Theatre after authorities denied the seven visas last week.

Hong Kong's immigration department, which would not comment on the case in particular, said work visas "will be considered individually and on (their) own merits in accordance with the prevailing policy and established procedures."

"In general, an application for employment may be favourably considered if, among other criteria, the applicant possesses special skill, knowledge or experience of value to and not readily available in (Hong Kong)," it said in a statement emailed to AFP.

In its classic dance shows, Shen Yun also "tells the story of Falungong, describes the persecution of Falungong in China, and stresses the importance of believing in one's religion and conviction," Yamakawa said.

Yamakawa, who is in charge of organising Shen Yun's Japan performances in March, said China had also sought to obstruct its past visits to the island-nation.

She said Chinese authorities had in the past sent emails to Japanese media organisations and the alumnae associations of some Japanese universities, urging them to "not watch nor support the performances."

Shen Yun says on its website its "mission is to revive China?s artistic traditions and spiritual heritage that thrived before decades of suppression through portraying traditional legends and events in present-day China."

"The Chinese communist regime has been seeking to interfere with our performances for years by trying to pressure officials and theatres to cancel our shows," the dance troupe said in an earlier statement.