SCMP: Falun Gong may sue for unlawful arrest

Activists consider legal options after convictions are quashed
 
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Falun Gong activists are considering suing the police for unlawful arrest and detention in the wake of last week's landmark Court of Final Appeal ruling which quashed their criminal convictions for obstruction and assault on officers. John Clancey, solicitor for the eight Falun Gong practitioners, said he was taking instructions.

Lawyers for the group would meet next month to discuss possible legal action when Paul Harris, a key advising counsel, returned from leave in Britain, he added.

Sixteen Falun Gong practitioners were arrested in March 2002 when they held a peaceful protest outside the front door of the central government's liaison office.

Police were called in after receiving complaints from the office. The 16 were convicted of wilfully obstructing a public place and assaulting police.

In ruling in favour of the eight appellants, the five Court of Final Appeal judges reaffirmed the right of people in Hong Kong to demonstrate and said police must have "reasonable suspicion of an unreasonable obstruction" before arresting protesters for obstruction.

The judges also decided against changing the convictions to common assault, saying there was insufficient evidence and that such a change was a matter for a lower court.

Without giving a time frame, Falun Gong spokesman Kan Hung-cheung said the decision over whether to sue the police would be discussed in the short term.

"We have not ruled out seeking compensation. The court has found the arrest and detention to be unlawful. We believe that, bowing to pressure from the central government, Hong Kong officials erred [when our members were arrested]," he said.

"But, more importantly, we just want Hong Kong people to understand that we are innocent and that it is us who are the victims."

While the Court of Final Appeal ruled the 16 Falun Gong [practitioners] broke no laws in their protest, Mr Kan said they had no immediate plans to step up activities. But the police would be told of any changes to its petition activities, he added.

Meanwhile, the group is protesting almost daily at a site near the liaison office without incident.

However, similar petitions of a type that triggered the arrests were unlikely to be repeated because that protest site has since been walled off.

During the three-year legal battle, prosecutors claimed the group staged the protest and hunger strike to obstruct the operation of the liaison office and pedestrians - a claim vehemently denied by Falun Gong practitioners.

The legal wrangle was largely seen as a test of Hong Kong's judicial independence and was watched carefully by world media.

Yesterday, the South China Morning Post revealed police had welcomed the ruling, saying it had cleared up grey areas and would help in the drawing up of guidelines for policing future demonstrations.

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