By a Correspondent on the march

It was a rally for democracy and freedom. But somehow or other one of the biggest, noisiest and most colorful groups to participate never got a mention or a picture in the local or the international media. A conspiracy of silence appears to exist over the name Falun Gong.

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 at Hong Kong’s rally for democracy on July 1, the day to celebrate the handover of the former British colonial territory to China ten years earlier. They 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 a van of a march which had Catholic Cardinal Zen near the front, rubbing shoulders with flamboyant publisher Jimmy Lai. His Apple Daily newspaper had been urging support for the demonstration, an exercise in Hong Kong’s people’s rights of assembly and protest as well as a demand for more democracy. But no group was as prominent or disciplined as the Falun Gong whose contingent was led by a drum band of in smart light blue uniforms, marching with a precision which indicated that they had had plenty of opportunity to practice. It was noisy, colorful and impressive to any onlooker, regardless of their views of the Falun Gong practitioners or the group’s motives and beliefs. Outstanding too was the huge banner which their second group of demonstrators carried behind the drum band which 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. That perhaps was not surprising given the stations’ well-known tendency to self-censorship. What was more surprising was that the following day not a word or picture of this 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 Cardinal Zen and some leading local pro-democracy politicians.

Nor indeed did it get reported by the international media, whether through deliberate decision to ignore the Falun Gong 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 can reasonably claim to be deliberately ignored by a media which otherwise trumpet 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 Falun Gong 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 itself. But there is no doubting its presence on July 1, and no doubting the media self-censorship which 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. Certainly for those who watched the Hong Kong march the Falun Gong was not silenced. But do not expect to see it in you newspaper or see pictures of banners proclaiming that heaven will triumph over the communist party.

Asiasentinel did not have its own photographer at the scene but can assure that these from the website of Epoch Times, the Falun Gong publication, are not a fabrication.