Hong Kong bishop defends Falun Gong movement

 The new Catholic Bishop of Hong Kong, Joseph Zen, expressed concerns yesterday that new anti-treason laws being drawn up by the Hong Kong government, threaten the right of the spiritual movement Falun Gong to practice. Under the new laws, any organisation the Chinese government considers a threat to its national security is likely to be banned in Hong Kong too. Hong Kong's chief executive, Tung Chee-hwa said the proposals do not conflict with Hong Kong's constitution or two human rights treaties the territory has signed. He said: "The proposals are fully consistent with the basic law human rights ordinance and the two international covenants as applied to Hong Kong. "I wish to emphasise that our proposal will not undermine in any way the existing human rights and civil liberties enjoyed by the people of Hong Kong," he said. But Bishop Zen, 70, said he was afraid the laws would mean a ban on groups like the Falun Gong movement, an indigenous spiritual practice which combines Buddhism and traditional Chinese spiritual healing. The bishop said: "Freedom has to be defended. You cannot take that for granted. It's not a gift, it's a right. If they damage the freedom, everybody should be considered. "If we can be sure that they (Falun Gong practitioners) have done nothing illegal or violent then they should not be persecuted." The Falun Gong movement has been outlawed in China for several years. Hundreds of members are currently in prison and there have been reports that several Falun Gong practitioners have been killed. The Vatican has relations with Taiwan, not Beijing. It also has links with an estimated 10 million members of the underground Catholic Church inside China. Bishop Zen said: "If tomorrow they say the underground church in China is dangerous for the state and then they say you are the same Catholic Church, and then we are in trouble."

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