A human rights group yesterday urged Chief Executive Tung Chee-hwa to affirm his commitment to protecting basic freedoms amid mounting pressure from Beijing to clamp down on the Falun Gong. The appeal came as two Falun Gong members were attacked as they handed out leaflets outside the Wong Tai Sin temple in what is believed to be the first assault of its kind on sect members in Hong Kong. It was not clear last night if the incident was politically motivated. Sidney Jones, Asia director of New York-based Human Rights Watch, said: 'That Beijing could think of pressing Hong Kong to move against the group is ominous. This kind of statement should have prompted an immediate rejoinder from . . . Tung and yet all we've heard is deafening silence.' The group said Mr Tung's affirmation was warranted, especially when the exercising of freedom of association and assembly had angered Beijing. Mr Jones' appeal was echoed by Democrat Szeto Wah, chairman of the Hong Kong Alliance in Support of the Patriotic Democratic Movement in China, who said not only the alliance but all Hong Kong people should speak out to fend off vigorous attempts by Beijing to erode freedoms. Speaking of the pressure the Government faced to deregister Falun Gong under the Societies Ordinance, Mr Szeto said the attacks had come from figures in the SAR who were bound to support Beijing, and the Government should resist such pressure. For the third consecutive day since Beijing issued its strongest warning so far against Falun Gong activities in the SAR, Mr Tung remained reluctant to break his silence. Asked whether the Falun Gong spiritual movement would be banned, Mr Tung, who was attending a spring luncheon with lawmakers and senior officials at the Legco dining hall, only saluted with joined hands and said: 'Kung hei fat choy', before being whisked away in his car. Mr Tung is set to face tough questioning by Democrats on what he will do to uphold the right to peaceful public assembly and freedom of expression as enshrined under 'one country, two systems'. Last night, the Chief Executive's Office said the Basic Law protected press freedom and freedom of speech and publication. 'We are committed to the protection of these freedoms, which are vital to Hong Kong's success,' a spokesman said. 'However, any Hong Kong organisation must abide by Hong Kong laws and can only operate within the law.' On Thursday, Secretary for Security Regina Ip Lau Suk-yee said the Falun Gong had become more high-profile and was targeting the central Government. She vowed to keep a 'close eye' on its activities. The two female Falun Gong followers, aged 55 and 60, who were attacked outside the Wong Tai Sin temple were with about a dozen other sect members handing out leaflets at noon. One of the women handed a flier to a security guard, 42, who immediately threw it away. The man was then handed a second flier, at which point he became agitated and allegedly punched one of the women in the face before fleeing. It was not known how the second woman was hurt. The group called police as one of the women and a male sect member chased the attacker, who allegedly also threatened the women with a retractable baton. The man was arrested near Lung Wah House, Wong Tai Sin Lower Estate, and was taken to Tsz Wan Shan police station. He was freed on bail and must report back this month. The women were taken to Queen Elizabeth Hospital for examination. One later made a statement to police. Witnesses said the sect members had been handing out fliers outside the temple for the past month without trouble.