More than 20 Falun Gong practitioners have reportedly been barred from entering Hong Kong before the territory celebrates the fifth anniversary of its reversion to Chinese sovereignty. The religious group is banned in mainland China but still legal in Hong Kong, where freedoms of expression and religion are guaranteed.

Several dozen Falun Gong practitioners from overseas planned to join a protest gathering Monday, the day of the anniversary celebrations. However, Hong Kong immigration officers turned a number away at the Hong Kong airport.

Hui Yee-Han a practitioner and spokeswoman for the spiritual movement said almost 30 people have been refused permission to enter the city.

"One gentleman he came from Taiwan to Hong Kong via the Macau airport and he was refused entry and the excuse given was because he was a Falun Gong practitioner. Up to now the number people I know of is more than 27. When they were denied entry they were not given any reason," Ms. Hui said.

Chinese President Jiang Zemin and other mainland officials will join Hong Kong leaders at Monday's celebrations. Britain returned Hong Kong to Chinese rule in 1997, after 150 years of colonial government.

A group of local Falun Gong members informed police that they will gather near the site of the ceremonies to protest China's crackdown on the group.

Vina Li, an Australian Falun Gong practitioner, said that while she was detained in Hong Kong's airport she met several other practitioners. She says many of them were from Taiwan and they reportedly were told they could not enter Hong Kong for security reasons.

Ms. Li said she was told that she was refused entry for immigration reasons. "From my experience they ask me nothing. They just look at a computer and can pick me up and obviously they have a black name list," Ms. Li said.

Ms. Li said she was never stopped from entering Hong Kong in the past.

Falun Gong followers said their religion is a peaceful movement that uses meditation and exercise to build health and happiness. China banned the group as a cult in 1999, saying it threatens social stability. The group claims hundreds of practitioners have perished in China under police abuse and torture.

The group is legal in Hong Kong where the freedom of expression and religion are guaranteed. Despite this Hong Kong's pro-Beijing leader has publicly condemned the group, calling it 'an evil cult.'