Marchers, dressed all in yellow, carried red lotus vegetation, yin-yang symbols, and different conventional Buddhist icons. But it used to be their massive banners, held aloft or fastened on small floats, that indicated this used to be no longer simply a spiritual rally.
“Keep away from the Chinese Communist Party. Stop the persecution of Falun Gong.”
A spiritual motion that emerged in China within the mid-1990s, Falun Gong surged in reputation national earlier than it used to be banned and brutally suppressed at the mainland in 1999. But it continues to function in Hong Kong because of the territory’s larger human rights protections.
Crossing the border by way of bus from China and seeing Falun Gong practitioners handing out anti-Communist Party leaflets used to be as soon as one of the vital visual indicators of Hong Kong’s relative autonomy from Beijing.
“The new National Security Law will act like a sharp knife hanging over the (association) and the heads of every Falun Gong practitioner in Hong Kong,” stated Ingrid Wu, spokeswoman for the Hong Kong Falun Dafa Association. “We are very concerned.”
Hong Kong officers have claimed the brand new regulation is essential and can handiest impact a handful of people. In early July, Chief Executive Carrie Lam driven again towards the advice the regulation would undermine other people’s freedoms.
“The legal principles that we attach a lot of importance to, like presumption of innocence and no retrospective effect and so on, are being upheld,” she stated. “Instead of spreading fear, the law will actually remove fear and let Hong Kong people return to a normal, peaceful life.”
A central authority spokeswoman didn’t reply to emailed questions on considerations referring to non secular freedom underneath the regulation.
Hong Kong has lengthy been a secure haven for entities which might by no means function in China, from banned non secular actions and exertions rights NGOs, to important tech corporations blocked by way of the Great Firewall. The destiny of teams like Falun Gong — fierce warring parties of Beijing who, whilst no longer the instant objectives of the regulation nonetheless come inside of its huge remit — will take a look at the ones assurances to the hilt.
New age faith
This culminated in an audacious, and strategically disastrous, demonstration round central authorities headquarters in Beijing involving round 10,000 practitioners. It used to be the largest protest the capital had observed because the 1989 Tiananmen crackdown, and used to be the start of the top for Falun Gong in China.
The protesters in Beijing had been calling for the elimination of restrictions positioned at the religion, however the Chinese government replied with a large crackdown and large propaganda push demonizing Falun Gong.
“I was shocked,” stated Rose, a Hong Kong-based Falun Gong practitioner. “I had friends who were traveling between Hong Kong and Beijing, they told me a crackdown was about to take place, but I said this was impossible, Falun Gong was just a belief, nothing political.”
Originally from mainland China, Rose started practising Falun Gong after shifting to Hong Kong within the overdue 1990s. CNN is withholding her complete title because of fears of prosecution underneath the brand new safety regulation.
After Falun Gong used to be banned, Rose’s husband and a number of other of her shut buddies recommended her to stay a low profile, to only do her workout routines and readings at house. But she used to be positive there were some type of mistake, and so, simply has her fellow practitioners had completed in Beijing, she sought to attraction to the federal government, to make the case for Falun Gong.
“A group of us went to the Liaison Office,” she stated. “But no one came out, we stayed there for 24 hours.”
The Liaison Office is the Chinese authorities’s Hong Kong headquarters, lengthy an emblem of Beijing’s affect over town.
Days become weeks, then months. Every day, Rose and a small crew of fellow practitioners accumulated outdoor the workplace on 160 Connaught Road to try to have their message heard.
One day the protesters had been joined by way of a gaggle of Swiss practitioners who had at first was hoping to commute to Beijing to protest however had been denied visas. Police tried to take away the gang, which, in keeping with courtroom paperwork by no means numbered greater than 16, and used to be “peaceful and largely static.”
The case used to be a significant victory no longer only for Falun Gong however for anti-government protesters usually, securing — till final yr’s anti-government protests — the best to level protests outdoor the Liaison Office.
While Falun Gong practitioners don’t seem to be the main goal of the brand new safety regulation — which is every now and then obviously designed to criminalize acts observed all over final yr’s anti-government protests — they and different teams like them may just nonetheless fall foul of its huge remit.
In specific, the brand new offense of subversion makes it unlawful in lots of instances to recommend “overthrowing the body of central power of the People’s Republic of China.” Given that the PRC authorities is indelibly intertwined with the Communist Party, Falun Gong efforts to get other people to give up the Communist Party in protest, or in a different way hurt its actions, might be deemed legal.
The new crime of “collusion with a foreign country or with external elements to endanger national security” is also used to focus on Falun Gong. While no longer a top-down faith just like the Catholic Church or different equivalent faiths with massive numbers of fans in Hong Kong, Falun Gong is headquartered within the United States, the place Li Hongzhi has lived since 1996, and that is the place the gang’s major media and lobbying palms also are positioned.
Under Article 29 of the brand new regulation, any individual who “conspires with a foreign country or an institution, organization or individual outside (China), or directly or indirectly receives instructions, control, funding or other kinds of support” from such organizations, might be prosecuted if they’re discovered to be “provoking by unlawful means hatred among Hong Kong residents towards the Central People’s Government or the Government of the Region, which is likely to cause serious consequences.”
With preliminary prosecutions underneath the protection regulation all associated with contemporary protests, Falun Gong practitioners may just to find themselves — if the regulation’s critics are proper — being a take a look at case of any other type, a selection of the regulation’s remit to prohibit actions that experience lengthy been verboten at the mainland.
“How the situation of Falun Gong practitioners in Hong Kong evolves in the coming months and how much of the repression leaks over from the mainland is a very important space to watch,” stated Sarah Cook, a senior analysis analyst at Freedom House and creator of “The Battle for China’s Spirit: Religious Revival, Repression, and Resistance under Xi Jinping.”
Outside of the protest motion, Falun Gong is without doubt one of the maximum vocal and visual opposition to the Communist Party, in each Hong Kong and somewhere else around the globe. While the gang is moderately indifferent from the mainstream opposition in Hong Kong because of its conservative non secular ideals, this has no longer stopped its presence within the town being symbolic, and plenty of fans take a type of delight that even Falun Gong can function in Hong Kong, given the massive antipathy Beijing has against the gang.
“The ability of people in Hong Kong to practice Falun Gong legally and openly is important both symbolically and practically,” stated Erping Zhang, a US-based spokesman for the gang.
Zhang stated that in addition to the brand new crimes created underneath the regulation, he used to be involved concerning the huge rights it provides Chinese safety services and products to function in Hong Kong, even extending Chinese jurisdiction over positive circumstances and permitting other people to be taken for trial at the mainland.
“It could truly take a horrific toll on Falun Gong practitioners in Hong Kong and create huge losses for those who have benefited from the practice and activists’ awareness raising activities,” he stated.
Cook, the Freedom House researcher, stated that any curtailment of Falun Gong within the town “would be a bad sign and a potentially worrying precursor to a crackdown on the broader religious community in Hong Kong.”
“Within China we’ve sign time and again since 1999 how the rules, tactics, and even security forces initially created to persecute Falun Gong are then expanded to other targets,” she added. “It may only be a matter of time before we see that in Hong Kong too, unfortunately.”
“Many critics do not accept the fact that we are part of China,” Kwong stated. “They only emphasize two systems, not one country. I cherish our Hong Kong freedoms — in particular the freedom of religion and way of life — as much as anyone, and I don’t think this law will change any of that. I am also proud to be living in China.”
Freedom of speech
Numerous considerations had been raised concerning the new regulation’s possible results on freedom of speech in Hong Kong, with other people already shifting to clean their social media and take away posters and pamphlets criticizing the federal government from stores and eating places.
Lam prior to now stated “the law has clearly defined the four types of acts and activities which we need to prevent, curb and punish in accordance with the law.”
“If the Foreign Correspondents’ Club or all reporters in Hong Kong can give me a 100% guarantee that they will not commit any offenses under this piece of national legislation, then I can do the same,” she added.
Here once more, Falun Gong might to find themselves on the inadvertent frontlines of Hong Kong’s struggle for civil liberties. During a contemporary protest a criminal offense on July 1, Falun Gong practitioners might be observed handing out flyers announcing “Heaven will destroy the Chinese Communist Party” in addition to copies of Epoch Times. The newspaper, which used to be based by way of Falun Gong practitioners and stays carefully related to the gang, is likely one of the maximum vocally anti-government publications within the town.
Representatives for Epoch Times in Hong Kong and New York didn’t reply to a request for remark.
Lai has lengthy been with reference to Republican Party politicians, resulting in claims of his being a overseas agent in Chinese state media, whilst the English version of the Epoch Times since 2016 has aggressively focused Trump electorate, with opinion content material taking up an more and more right-wing stance.
Uncertain long term
Hong Kong and Beijing officers have again and again claimed that the protection regulation is each essential and restrained, and can handiest impact a tiny handful of people within the town, basically violent separatists.
Falun Gong practitioners, in addition to many different teams in Hong Kong adverse to Beijing, won’t right away really feel the edge of the brand new rules, however they had been poised for the more serious. After years of suppression in China, then again, the gang is best ready than maximum for how you can serve as at the back of the scenes, even supposing that may require a whole overhaul of its Hong Kong operation.
Zhang, the US-based spokesman, stated that inside of China nonetheless, other people “continue to practice Falun Gong in private and many go out and discretely disseminate information to help other Chinese see through the CCP’s lies and cover-ups.”
Many practitioners in Hong Kong are within the town as a result of they fled China, and Wu, the native spokeswoman stated some might make a choice to move in a foreign country will have to the regulation goal them.
“The Falun Gong community is diverse; each person makes their own decision based on their family and other situations,” she stated. “But most of Falun Gong practitioners that I know plan to stay in Hong Kong. We feel it is our responsibility to continue our peaceful efforts of raising awareness of the persecution and calling for justice, and tell the world what is happening in Hong Kong.”