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By Andrea Mullaney

The performers' director says that they are prepared to face possible harassment by the authorities in defence of the freedom of speech promised by China but feared by campaigners to be under threat.

The members of Sitcom - South Island Theatre Company - are aged between 11 and 18 and attend an international school in Hong Kong.

The company came to the Fringe last year with The Crucible,
Arthur Miller's allegory of political victimisation, but now it is presenting a play developed with Amnesty International, which deals with the recent crackdown on the [spiritual] group Falun Gong.

The group's founder and director Martin Radford said that his young cast knew that they could face repercussions when they return home, but that the issue was too important to avoid.

He said: "There could be a risk, but it's something we feel is worth fighting for. We are prepared to say that freedom of speech is critical and we are beginning to see it disappear. The parents of the group fully support them."
The show, Dignity, at the Quaker Meeting House, deals with the theme of how violence and torture can escalate if society is apathetic.

Mr. Radford explained: "I wrote the play originally after the Tiananmen Square massacre but it's now been reworked in the light of new events in Hong Kong and the continuing reports of human rights abuse. The repression of the Falun Gong in China is now poisoning the freedom of statement so revered in Hong Kong."

Any profits will be donated to Amnesty International. Its East Asia expert Dominique Muller said the Chinese - authorities were cracking down on "anti-social activities", provoking outrage amongst campaigners. Amnesty says members of the Falun Gong[group], [...], have died in jail after being tortured or force-fed.

Ms Muller said: "In Hong Kong, the 'one country, two systems' rule means that people are still officially allowed to protest but there has been an increasing amount of self-censorship as people fear to confront China. There have been accusations that there is a secret blacklist stopping Falun Gong members from getting into Hong Kong, so a play like this would certainly be frowned on and the company would not be allowed into mainland China."

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