Six artists in Falun Gong show denied work visas

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 23 January, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 23 January, 2010, 12:00am

The Immigration Department is being called upon to explain its last-minute rejection of visa applications for six members of a US-based dance troupe that has been invited by Hong Kong's main Falun Gong group.

The six people, holding American, Canadian or Australian passports, saw their applications for employment visas turned down just days before the troupe is to arrive for a sold-out run of shows next week at the Lyric Theatre in Wan Chai. Aspects of the performance touch on mistreatment of Falun Gong followers on the mainland.

Three of the applicants were technicians, and the department's suggestion the troupe use local replacements to handle the duties was baffling, said Hui Yee-han, a spokeswoman for the Hong Kong Association of Falun Dafa, a co-organiser.

A legislator and an art critic urged the department to clearly explain the matter, saying arts groups should not be prevented from visiting because of political pressure. Beijing banned the Falun Gong on the mainland in 1999, labelling it an 'evil cult'.

The department said it had followed policy in approving the troupe's applications and declined to comment on individual cases.

Shen Yun Performing Arts, formerly known as Divine Performing Arts and now touring in the US and Canada, is expected to arrive in Hong Kong on Monday for seven shows running from Wednesday to Sunday at the Lyric Theatre at the Hong Kong Academy for Performing Arts. This is the first time the group has performed here.

The group was informed by the department on Thursday that seven of its 93 visa applications were rejected. Hui said they began to submit applications in early October and the final ones were made in December. Processing takes four to six weeks.

A deputy troupe leader, whose application was initially turned down, was granted a visa last night after the group met representatives from the department.

'The six people are not replaceable. The technicians are the only ones with the expertise in our troupe,' Hui said. 'The department has asked us to find someone to replace them in Hong Kong. It doesn't make sense. How can we find someone to replace them in a few days' time? And we don't have the time to brief them and do all the rehearsal again,' she said.

'Our show can't go without them. We urge the Immigration department to approve their visa application immediately.'

The shows are being co-organised by the association, Epochtimes Hong Kong and New Town Dynasty Television Hong Kong. More than 7,000 tickets, priced between HK$200 and HK$900, have sold out.

Legislator Albert Ho Chun-yan, who has been assisting the group in its negotiations with the department, expressed fears the incident would strike a blow to Hong Kong's international image.

Mathias Woo Yan-wai, executive director of the experimental theatre group Zuni Icosahedron and who regularly arranged cultural exchange of performing groups, called on the department to give a clear, candid explanation on the issue.

The department said it would not comment on individual case. It said, in general, an application for employment might be considered favourably if it related to special skills, knowledge or experience not easily found here.