Reuters: "[The trial] has raised questions about freedoms in the territory"


HONG KONG, Aug 8 (Reuters) - The trial of 16 Falun Gong followers charged with obstruction in Hong Kong ended on Thursday in a case that has raised questions about freedoms in the territory five years into Chinese rule.

The judge set August 15 to deliver his verdict.
The 16 - four Swiss nationals, a New Zealander and 11 Hong Kong residents - are accused of causing a public obstruction during a protest of China's crackdown on the Falun Gong outside of Beijing's main representative office in Hong Kong on March 14.

They were also charged with a second count of potentially causing public obstruction after they unfurled a banner with the words (Chinese President) "Jiang Zemin, Stop Killing."

Nine also face a third charge of wilfully obstructing police when forcibly removed by officers during the protest. Three are accused of assaulting police officers. All have pleaded not guilty to the various charges and remain free on bail.

Public obstruction carries a maximum fine of HK$5,000 (US$641) or three months in jail. Wilfully obstructing police carries a maximum jail term of two years. Assaulting a police officer carries a fine of HK$5,000 and a six-month prison term.

Though banned in mainland China, Falun Gong is legal in Hong Kong, which was promised a high degree of autonomy when it returned to Chinese rule on July 1, 1997.

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