Little proof Falun Gong scares off tourists

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 25 June, 2006, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 25 June, 2006, 12:00am

Doubt cast on claim by Beijing and mainland bodies that spiritual group harasses visitors and should be banned

The Falun Gong in Hong Kong has been accused of scaring away tourists, with supporters of the central government suggesting the religious group may be putting the whole sector at risk and should be outlawed.

The new accusations - which come days ahead of the pro-democracy march on July 1 - are being used to renew calls for the implementation of anti-sedition legislation under Basic Law Article 23.

However, travel industry sources tell the Sunday Morning Post the claims are an exaggeration.

Wang Fengchao, a deputy director of the central government's liaison office in Hong Kong, said last week the 'evil cult' was ruining Hong Kong's 'prosperity and harmony' by harassing tourists.

China Travel Service director Lo Sui-on said tourists were so distressed they were asking local guides to pressure the government into dealing with the problem.

'The tourists hope that we can express to the relevant authorities that the cult group be outlawed,' Mr Lo said. When asked how many complaints were received, his office replied that the numbers were too difficult to tally.

But according to the Hong Kong Tourism Board - the police were unable to provide figures - only one official complaint was recorded in the past 18 months.

'We received one complaint on our visitor hotline last year - a mainland tourist said the Falun Gong disturbed her enjoyment of The Peak. There were none this year and so far we have not received any complaints from tour operators,' said a spokeswoman.

Paul Leung Yiu-lam, chairman of the Hong Kong Inbound Travel Association, said although there were occasional unofficial complaints, the issue was hardly serious. 'This is a free society,' he said. 'People are not going to stop coming to Hong Kong because of that. It's not a big deal.'

GZTC International Tour - an agency bringing up to 200 Guangdong tourists to Hong Kong daily - has never received a complaint.

'Most people from the big cities already know about Falun Gong, so they just avoid them. In turn, the Falun Gong don't disturb them,' said general manager Mr Li.

A spokeswoman for the 300 Falun Gong members in Hong Kong said they have an understanding with the tour operators.

'In the past, we sent letters to tour guides and bus drivers explaining our situation. The guides in turn warn them to throw the flyers out before going home,' said Hui Yee-han, of the Hong Kong Association of Falun Dafa.

Dutch tourist Mrs Lipperts, 48, said: 'It's acceptable that they speak out because of the rights of freedom of religion. They don't cause much of a nuisance.'

Mainland tourist Mr Fong, 29, said: 'It may affect China's image. I wonder whether the pictures showing Falun Gong being persecuted by the government are true.'