01 Feb 07
Six Singapore-based followers of the Falun Gong spiritual movement were in court on Wednesday facing charges of holding a protest without a permit in the tightly controlled city-state.
The group, made up of ethnic Chinese women aged from 37 to 55 years, were charged in April last year with taking part in an unauthorized assembly the previous October in the busy Orchard Road shopping area. If convicted, they face a maximum fine of 1,000 Singapore dollars (US$630; euro500).
The court on Wednesday was shown police security footage shot at the scene in which the women were seen carrying banners and distributing flyers in pairs or groups of three as they walked along the main shopping avenue.
The printed material was said to describe the alleged atrocities committed against Falun Gong followers in China, where authorities have outlawed the group and violently suppress it as a cult.
The defendants – who are Pang Su Chin, 55, You Xin, 37, Wang Yuyi, 50, Ang Soh Yan, 47, Ng Chye Huay, 41, and Cheng Lujin, 38 – have denied the charges.
They were representing themselves in the trial because they could not find a lawyer who was willing to defend them, said Wang, one of the defendants and spokeswoman of Singapore’s Falun Buddha Society.
“Worldwide, people go to Chinese embassies to protest, to tell the truth about the persecution of the Falun Gong members in China,” Wang said outside court. “We are Falun Gong practitioners outside China. We are lucky we have access to the international media, and the best thing we can do is to tell the truth.”
Falun Gong is not outlawed in Singapore, but public assemblies require prior permission from police, and authorities have previously arrested members on similar charges. Protests and demonstrations are rare in the Southeast Asian country.
Singapore’s authorities regularly come under fire from international human rights groups for tightly restricting speech and assembly. The authorities say such controls provide the stability that has helped turn the Southeast Asian city-state into a global economic powerhouse.