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Hong Kong Judge Convicts Falun Gong Members for Public Obstruction

In Hong Kong, 16 Falun Gong followers have been found guilty of public obstruction during an anti-China protest early this year.

Hong Kong's first trial involving Falun Gong followers ended Thursday with 16 people convicted for causing public obstruction during a protest in March. The defendants, mostly Hong Kong residents, also included four Swiss and a New Zealand citizen.

Nine of the defendants also were convicted of the more serious charge of obstructing the police while three were found guilty of assaulting police officers.

In his ruling, Judge Symon Wong said the defendants were in "open defiance of the laws of Hong Kong" when they blocked public access outside the Chinese government's liaison office in the territory.

The defendants denied disrupting public order while demonstrating against China's crackdown on the group's followers. Police broke up the protest in Hong Kong and a clash erupted.

Falun Gong spokeswoman, Sharon Xu, said the defendants will appeal the convictions.

"The ruling is not fair. The judge has not been fair and has been holding prejudice against the defendants…." she said. " Basically the judge almost 100 percent rejected the evidence that we put before him and almost 100 percent accepted the prosecution's evidence and that is incredible. This verdict has seriously undermined people's confidence in Hong Kong's judicial system."

The trial raised concerns among human rights activists in Hong Kong that the government may be clamping down on anti-Beijing protests. They say such moves threaten Hong Kong's civil liberties, which are guaranteed under the "one country, two systems" arrangement with Beijing. Britain returned control of Hong Kong to China in 1997, and Beijing pledged to protect the city's freedoms and economic system.

China banned Falun Gong in the mainland in 1999 and calls it an "evil cult". However, the spiritual movement is legal in Hong Kong and its followers are free to practice their meditation exercises here.

Judge Wong said the verdict has nothing to do with the practice of Falun Gong in Hong Kong. He fined all the defendants a few hundred dollars. They faced maximum penalties of $640 in fines and two years in prison.