HONG KONG—Falun Gong practitioners in Hong Kong breathed a deep sigh of relief on April 1 when the Hong Kong government forced a Communist Party front group to take down banners slandering the spiritual discipline. The feeling of relief did not last long.
On April 12 officials from the Hong Kong Food and Environmental Hygiene Department suddenly showed up at an information site run by Falun Gong practitioners at the government housing complex Ka Wai Chuen.
The practitioners had for years set up banners and poster boards there telling about Falun Gong and its persecution in China. They liked the spot because of the nearby gold shops, which are frequented by mainland Chinese tourists.
The Food and Environmental Hygiene officials were not proud of what they had been sent to do. According to practitioners at the scene, when asked what they were about, the officials explained they were just following orders. And then began removing the practitioner’s banners and poster boards.
When the practitioners objected that they were conducting a legal protest, the officials replied that protests were not their responsibility. Tell it to the police, they said, as they continued carting away the practitioners’ possessions.
After that first raid, the Food and Environmental Hygiene department established a special task force and hired contract workers to begin confiscating Falun Gong materials at sites throughout the Special Administrative Region. Those efforts are ongoing, as practitioners refuse to stop activities they say are legal and began almost 14 years ago.
Youth Care Association
In shutting down the Falun Gong sites, the department appears to be doing the dirty work of a group called the Hong Kong Youth Care Association.
The Youth Care Association appeared seemingly out of nowhere on June 10, 2012, when its members, dressed in uniform polo shirts, began attempting to cover up the Falun Gong information site at the Hung Hom train station with giant banners bearing Chinese Communist Party propaganda attacking the practice.
Soon, the Youth Care Association struck at other information sites. Hong Kong media investigated this mysterious group and discovered it had close ties with the CCP Party organ called the 610 Office.
Then-Party head Jiang Zemin created this extra-constitutional organization on June 10, 1999 to eradicate Falun Gong. Jiang feared the popularity of the practice and wanted to use his suppression of it, which officially began on July 20, 1999, to enhance his own power.
The Association members attempted to wall off Falun Gong sites from the public with their banners, which also began blanketing the city. They surrounded the practitioners at the sites and used megaphones at close range to insult and threaten them.
According to media reports, the Hong Kong police did nothing to protect the Falun Gong practitioners’ rights to assemble and protest. When the police weren’t looking, the association members would physically assault the practitioners, according to the Falun Gong adherents.
Some members of Hong Kong’s Legislative Council, or LegCo, on seeing this unbridled assault on Falun Gong, expressed concern that Hong Kong chief executive Leung Chun-ying had planned all along to shut down the Falun Gong sites.
In an interview with The Epoch Times in early April, LegCo member Lee Cheuk-yan said, “The Leung government wanted to use the Hong Kong Youth Care Association banners to clear up Falun Gong information sites.
“The strategy was to have the Hong Kong Youth Care Association harass Falun Gong, and the purpose was to cooperate with the Hong Kong Youth Care Association to suppress Falun Gong,” Lee said. “I’m very displeased with what they have been doing.”
LegCo member Albert Ho Chun-yan said, “It is obvious that the Food and Environmental Hygiene Department took the opportunity of the Hong Kong Youth Care Association’s attack to clear up Falun Gong.”
When the Hong Kong Youth Care Association was given orders on April 1 to begin taking down their banners, practitioners report the Association members saying to Hong Kong officials that if they were forced to take down their banners, so too should the Falun Gong. The practitioners see the Hong Kong government’s orders to shut down their information sites as fulfilling what the Association had sought all along.
Now, according to practitioners, the Youth Care Association is working hand-in-glove with the Food and Environmental Hygiene Department.
“The people of the Hong Kong Youth Care Association are watching the Falun Gong practitioners,” said Mandy Liu, who is involved with several of the Falun Gong information sites in Hong Kong.
“When the practitioners begin to display any materials, the Youth Care Association members call the Food and Environmental Hygiene Department,” Liu said. “After the officials come, the Youth Care Association tells us, ‘we called them on you.'”
“The Food and Environment Hygiene Department, when they come, they confiscate any Falun Gong materials they see. It doesn’t matter whether the practitioners have displayed anything or not, they just snatch the materials out of our hands,” Liu said. “They are like gangsters, not like security people maintaining order.”
Ms. Liu said the practitioners are taking photos and trying to collect evidence of what the Youth Care Association and the Hong Kong government are doing.
“We are engaged in legal protests, and the Food and Environmental Hygiene Department is taking illegal actions,” said Mr. Kan Hung-cheung, the spokesperson for the Hong Kong Falun Dafa Association.
Albert Ho Chun-yan, who, in addition to being a LegCo member, is a lawyer, stressed that the government has no right to intervene in a normal protest, and cannot remove materials from an ongoing activity. “If someone is simply looking at the banners, that is an ongoing activity,” Ho said.
The right of the Falun Gong practitioners to protest in Hong Kong was affirmed by the Hong Kong Court of Final Appeal in a 2004 decision concerning the arrest of Falun Gong practitioners who had been protesting outside the People’s Republic of China Liaison Office.
“The Hong Kong Falun Gong practitioners do not rule out legal action as a possible means,” Mr. Kan said. “But there are other means they are also considering, such as appealing to LegCo.”
According to Albert Ho Chun-yan, Falun Gong’s difficulties in Hong Kong originate with the Chinese Communist Party. “The reason the Hong Kong government tolerated the Youth Care Association was because it belonged to the CCP,” Ho said.
“Our government is under pressure from the CCP,” Ho said. “It has taken some actions against dissident groups, and it is clear that they are targeting Falun Gong.”
Translated by Lu Lu and Arlenn Wu. Written in English by Stephen Gregory.