Judge queries destruction of Falun Gong files
Papers on decision to bar practitioners were shredded within a month, court told
All documents relating to why a group of more than 80 Falun Gong practitioners were prevented from entering Hong Kong four years ago were destroyed within a month of the event, the government admitted yesterday.
Daniel Fung Wah-kin SC, for the government, made the admission in the Court of First Instance after Mr Justice Michael Hartmann, who is conducting a judicial review of the affair, observed that it could appear to a bystander that some 'hoovering' of evidence had gone on.
The judge made clear he was not suggesting the government had in any way attempted to hide evidence regarding why the practitioners were placed on an Immigration Department watch list. But he said it seemed odd that there was not a single document to be found anywhere about the rationale for the decision.
The practitioners were stopped on February 22, 2003, as they arrived for a conference. They were told they were being turned away for 'security reasons'.
The review has been brought by four Taiwanese Falun Gong practitioners - Theresa Chu Woan-chyi, Liao Hsiao-lan, Lu Lih-ching and Chang Jenn-yeu.
A Falun Gong Hong Kong chapter spokesman, Kan Hung-cheung, and the Hong Kong Association of Falun Dafa are also applicants.
They are seeking a declaration that the government acted unlawfully in preventing them and more than 70 others from entering the city and that unreasonable force was used to repatriate them.
'It seems puzzling, to put it mildly, that when this application for a judicial review was lodged just six weeks after the event, the director should possess no documents about anything that has anything to do with the matter,' Mr Justice Hartmann said.
The judge remarked that even the documents the government insisted he could look at only behind closed doors contained nothing of substance regarding the events of that night.
'How can that be when 80 people are refused entry ... when the nature of the organisation in Hong Kong is [so] sensitive?' he asked. 'Either the data was deleted or it was never there.
'How is it, then, that the director can then talk about a specific security risk?
'To an ordinary man on the street it would seem puzzling that there be no records anywhere in the government's archives of [this event] just six weeks after it occurred.'
Mr Fung said it was standard procedure for records relating to individuals on the watch list to be destroyed shortly after the person was removed from the list, as in the case of the practitioners.
Paul Harris SC, for the practitioners, described as 'incredible' the contention that all material related to the event was destroyed.
'If it really has been destroyed then they can't have been much of a security risk,' Mr Harris said. 'It is beyond belief that departments in Hong Kong would deal that way with information about a significant security threat.'
Mr Justice Hartmann reserved his decision.