Wednesday, February 21, 2001

Leave cults alone, say faith leaders
Religious groups urge Government to take no legal action against sects such as Falun Gong

   Religious groups joined forces yesterday to urge the Government not to legislate against cults.

The call came at a Legislative Council home affairs panel special meeting, where 12 religious groups were asked to define an "evil cult". Tung Chee-hwa had earlier this month branded the Falun Gong as "more or less bearing some characteristics of an evil cult".

Religious leaders said neither religious groups nor the administration should have to define the term.

Joseph Zen Ze-kiun, coadjutor bishop of the Catholic Diocese of Hong Kong, said making such definitions would divide local religious groups. "I hope there will not be meetings like this again in the future. There is just no need to find a commonly recognised definition for religion," he said.

Bishop Zen said it was inappropriate to discuss Falun Gong under the "strong political atmosphere".

"There are now some puzzling remarks saying [Falun Gong] is pointing [spears] at Beijing and Mr Tung branded the sect an evil cult, too. It is so confusing that it will be difficult for people to discuss it calmly," he said.

There were sufficient laws against illegal activities of religious groups and the Government did not need not legislate to ban such cults, he said.

The Reverend Li Ping-kwong, Hong Kong Christian Council chairman, agreed there was no need to define "evil cult".

"Religious groups deserve our respect as long as they do not break the law. We will not criticise other religious groups out of doctrine or behaviour," he said.

Rose Wu Lo-sai, Hong Kong Christian Institute director, said the Chief Executive's remarks undermined religious freedom and "one country, two systems". She also attacked remarks by a senior mainland official over Falun Gong as putting pressure on the Government to ban the sect.

Ye Xiaowen, head of the State Council's Religious Affairs Office, had branded Falun Gong as a "poisonous tumour" on Monday.

However, Ven Sik Hin-hung, Hong Kong Buddhist Association managing director, said the Government should keep a close eye on "highly dangerous religious groups". He declined to say if Falun Gong was such a group.

He said Falun Gong followers had disturbed the Po Lin Monastery in June last year, claiming the monastery was besieged with followers playing their sect song loudly after midnight.

Deputy Secretary for Home Affairs Leo Kwan Wing-wah sidestepped a question on whether the Government should legislate on religion. "Anybody can worship whatever they want as long as they do not break the law. They can worship rocks, heaven and earth. There will only be misunderstanding if I say too much," he said.