HONG KONG—Over 100 Hong Kong residents marched to defend freedom of speech on Sunday, March 3, taking to the streets in response to banners targeting the spiritual practice of Falun Gong.
Over the past eight months a group called the Hong Kong Youth Care Association has inundated the city with banners bearing the Chinese Communist Party’s propaganda slogans attacking Falun Gong.
Often nine feet in height, the banners line some of Hong Kong’s busiest and most fashionable streets and are erected at sites where Falun Gong adherents tell passersby about their practice and how it is persecuted in China.
While the Youth Care Association has a Hong Kong address, it also shares office space and personnel with the branch of the Communist Party organization tasked with eradicating Falun Gong that is based in the mainland China city of Shenzhen, just across the border from Hong Kong. The head of the Association is a Communist Party official in Jiangxi Province.
The green-shirted Association members made their presence felt Sunday afternoon outside the department store Sogo, a landmark in Hong Kong and a popular tourist destination. The march was scheduled to start at Sogo at 2 p.m. Near Sogo is a Falun Gong information site.
According to Falun Gong practitioners at the scene, members of the Association showed up at around noon and began attempting to interfere with the information site, surrounding it and shouting insults.
Beginning in June, 2012, the Association has attempted to completely cover up or wall off Falun Gong sites with banners, making them invisible or inaccessible to the mainland tourists who frequent the sites.
At around 2 p.m. the Hong Kong police assigned to the march showed up. The Hong Kong police have taken a hands-off attitude toward the activities of the Association, refusing to protect the practitioners from its interference.
On this day, however, the police interposed themselves between the Association and the practitioners. At 3 p.m. the marchers departed, winding their way through Hong Kong to the city’s government building.
The Association members stayed behind and at one point attempted to break through the police barricade using bamboo poles.
They shouted at the police that the police were showing favoritism toward Falun Gong, and then gave the police an ultimatum. The police had to take down the practitioners’ banners or the Association members would do the job themselves.
The police stood their ground and 30 minutes later the Association members departed.
The organizer of the march, Mr. Xiong Li, said that the actions of the Association have not been covered by Hong Kong’s media and the march was a way to draw Hong Kongers’ attention to the Youth Care Association’s abusive behavior.
Participants in the march included members of civil rights groups, Internet users, and ordinary citizens.
Hong Kong resident Mr. Yang Zeming took part in the march. “[The Association members] say that it’s freedom of speech, but in reality it’s a kind of violence,” Yang said. “You may publicize your message on one side. But they don’t. They surround [Falun Gong practitioners] and provoke.”
“This is simply a kind of violence and it shouldn’t be tolerated,” Yang said. “It has deviated from the norm in all the world’s peaceful societies.”
The founder of the organization Friends of Conscience, Ms. Cai Shufang, also joined the march. She said that the situation in Hong Kong is becoming worse and worse. “We need to protect our core values,” Cai said. “If we people of Hong Kong give up our own rights, we will have no hope.”
Yang also saw the Association as a threat to Hong Kong’s basic values. Yang said “[the Hong Kong government] is carrying out the will of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) and is making this kind of behavior seem reasonable, trashing the relationship between the Hong Kong police and the Hong Kong people; it has seriously damaged the core values of Hong Kong.”
Among those taking part in the march were individuals who have organized themselves through the Internet to oppose the Association’s activities.
Danny Chan, the spokesperson of the Facebook group We Are Hongkongians not Chinese, said, “I think every association has the freedom to express itself, but it cannot prevent other organizations or people from expressing freedom of speech.
“What the Youth Care Association has done recently has interfered with other people or even associations to express their own freedom of speech.”
Mr. Huang was an onlooker to the march. He said the Association’s banners are dangerous. “They put large banners everywhere that block the normal street view. A small kid might be killed if a bus driver could not see him or her”
Mr. Leung Yiu-chung, a Member of the Hong Kong Legislative Council, said the Hong Kong government had never fixed the problem presented by the Association but connived with the Association’s activities instead. “That makes them [the Association members] go further beyond the line.”
He called on the Hong Kong government to “stop these intrusions and arrest the related people.”
Translated by Maria Zhou. Written in English by Sonya Bryskine.
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