Asia Sentinel: July 4, 2007 - Scores of trained observers fail to see hundreds of banner-waving demonstrators for freedom.
Somehow one of the biggest, noisiest and most colorful groups to participate in Hong Kong’s July 1 march for freedom and democracy never got a mention or a picture in either the local or the international media. A conspiracy of silence appears to exist over the name Falun Gong.
It may be true that the sect practices tactics that turn off more people than it attracts. But despite the fact that dozens of its supporters, mostly arriving from Taiwan, were detained at Hong Kong airport and returned whence they came, the Falun Gong managed a large and well-organized turnout numbering in the hundreds at Hong Kong’s pro democracy rally to mark the 1997 handover of the former British colony to China.
The Falun Gong formed up near the rear of the procession, variously estimated at between 20,000 and 60,000 strong, which marched from Victoria Park to the Central Government offices. They were thus not in the van of a march that had Catholic Cardinal Zen near the front, rubbing shoulders with flamboyant publisher Jimmy Lai. Lai’s Apple Daily newspaper had been urging support for the demonstration, an exercise in Hong Kong’s people’s right of assembly and protest as well as a demand for more democracy.
But no group was as prominent or disciplined, with a contingent led by a drum band in smart light blue uniforms, marching with a precision that indicated that they had had plenty of opportunity to practice. It was noisy, colorful and impressive to any onlooker, regardless of how they may view Falun Gong practitioners or the group’s motives and beliefs. Impressive too was their huge banner that read “Heaven destroys Chinese Communists.”
So it was all the more interesting that none of the three local television channels carried any of this in their evening news broadcasts. What was more surprising was that the following day not a word or picture of the marchers appeared in any of the leading local newspapers, not even Apple Daily, despite the prominence it otherwise gave to the march and the participation of Zen and some leading local pro-democracy politicians.
Nor indeed was the sect’s appearance reported by the international media, whether through a deliberate decision to ignore them or because their reporters were more concerned with the front of the demonstration and the role of Zen and other well-known local figures.
But it would not be the first time that the Falun Gong could reasonably claim to be deliberately ignored by a media that otherwise regularly gives strong coverage to protests and demands for freedom and democracy in China.
The fact that some Falun Gong supporters had been detained at the airport was reported locally and internationally. But the extent of the actions against them remains little reported. Taiwan human rights lawyer Theresa Chu, who was deported on June 25, made public what was said to be an internal document from an airline company stating that during the July 1 period, Hong Kong Immigration would provide airline companies with a blacklist and requested that the airline companies flying from Taiwan to Hong Kong cooperate to ban Falun Gong practitioners from boarding.
What is not clear is where the few hundred practitioners who made up the Hong Kong contingent came from. Some from Taiwan surely beat the ban, some (including non-Chinese) were from North America. But how many were from Hong Kong and how many indeed from the mainland?
The organization itself claims that mainlanders were among those prevented from entering Hong Kong, but this cannot readily be verified.
Certainly the movement has been known to make exaggerated claims for the size of its membership. But there is no doubting its presence on July 1, and no doubting the media self-censorship that deprived the movement of the coverage its display warranted. That should come as a particular shock to Cardinal Zen who said several years ago that if the Falun Gong could be silenced today it would not be long before Catholics got the same treatment.