Fears of violence as Falun Gong and foes clash over banners
Confrontations intensify as opponents of spiritual movement step up their protests
A banner war that has erupted between Falun Gong supporters and an organisation opposing them has alarmed lawmakers who fear it may escalate into violence.
In recent months an organisation called the Hong Kong Youth Care Association Limited has put up anti-Falun Gong banners in response to those placed by the spiritual movement, which is banned on the mainland.
The English slogans on the banners have included, "Boycott Falun Gong evil cult"; "Build a harmonious Hong Kong"; "Taiwan Falun Gong get out of Hong Kong"; "Eradicate Falun Gong"; "Cherish your life, stay away from the evil cult - Falun Gong"; and "Anti-Falun Gong".
They have appeared in Causeway Bay - especially near the Sogo department store - as well as near Hung Hom train station, the Star Ferry terminal in Tsim Sha Tsui, the Wong Tai Sin Temple, and along Nathan Road as far as Mong Kok. Places as far away as Tung Chung and Yuen Long also have the banners.
In July, members of the two groups argued angrily over banner space at the Lok Ma Chau Transport Interchange at the border. One anti-Falun Gong activist allegedly threatened a reporter from the Epoch Times, a Taiwan-based newspaper supportive of Falun Gong, with a knife. The incident was reported to the police, but an investigation found insufficient evidence to arrest anyone for possessing an offensive weapon.
Tensions between the groups have since escalated with banners belonging to each organisation being torn down regularly.
Labour Party chairman Lee Cheuk-yan said Falun Gong was a lawful organisation and had the right to free speech. He said he was more disturbed by the fact that the police did not intervene when disturbances between the two groups occurred.
"All lawful organisations need protection, whether they support Falun Gong or not, and should be treated with respect," Lee said. "But the police have not acted when there's been a breach of the peace directed at Falun Gong, and this is a worry. All organisations should be treated equally."
Lee was also suspicious of the Hong Kong Youth Care Association's motives, calling it a "fishy organisation" that was obviously "pro-Beijing".
Lawmaker "Long Hair" Leung Kwok-hung said the confrontations had to stop, and if the police did not take down the anti-Falun Gong banners, he would do it himself.
Youth Care's spokesman, Lam Kwok-on, has been associated with the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong in recent years. The organisation's registered office is in On Lok Tsuen, Fanling. Nobody from the organisation would comment.
A police spokesman said that only the Food and Environmental Hygiene Department had the authority to remove the banners of either organisation. The department said it was aware of the banners of both groups, but said it would not take action against protest activities.
The Lands Department said neither group had sought the approvals necessary to put up banners in the past six months. But a spokeswoman for Falun Gong argued that banners could legally be placed so long as they were only up for a few hours a day, and not overnight.