AAP: Embassy protesters claim court win

By Max Blenkin

MEMBERS of the Falun Gong religious movement have
dropped their case against Foreign Minister Alexander Downer over restrictions
on their regular protests outside the Chinese embassy.

Mr Downer began
signing certificates in March 2002, barring protesters from displaying large banners
and using loudspeakers outside the embassy to protest against Chinese Government
abuse of Falun Gong practitioners.

The certificates were issued under regulations
protecting the dignity of foreign missions in Australia.

Lawyer Bernard
Collaery, representing Falun Gong, today told the ACT Supreme Court that Mr Downer
had now ceased signing the certificates.

He said for that reason Falun
Gong could end its legal challenge to Mr Downer’s actions.

the agreement which settled the case, Falun Gong undertook to keep its protests
within certain constraints while Mr Downer reserved the right to reissue the certificates
if he believed it appropriate.

Small numbers of Falun Gong protesters stage
vigils outside the embassy almost every day.

Celebrating their apparent
victory today, the group, complete with large banners and portable sound system,
rallied outside the court building.

Mr Collaery told reporters this was
a sensible decision and inevitable because of the impact on freedom of expression.

He said Mr Downer was apparently reluctant to justify his statements that
noise and music from demonstrators was impeding the work of Chinese diplomats
and offending the dignity of the mission.

"Mr Downer has not been
able to back his claims by appearing in court with his own affidavit," Mr
Collaery said.

"He has now avoided government evidence by withdrawing
his certificates.

"This a remarkable win for freedom of expression
in Australia, so long as the Falun Gong appeal remains peaceful and does not intrude
upon the working space of the Chinese embassy.

"There has never been
a suggestion that there has been any blockage of the embassy or disruption of
its operations."

Mr Collaery said Falun Gong remained fearful a Chinese
Government agent provocateur could cause some incident during the visit of Chinese
Premier Wen Jiabao.

"We are aware of the tactics of the Chinese government
and we are monitoring very carefully the premier’s visit," he said.

Gong spokesman Geoff Gregory said the group had never played loud music outside
the embassy, but had played recorded messages directed at passing Chinese tour

That practice could resume, he said.

"We will not break
any noise laws. If we feel it is necessary to use an amplifier of any sort to
clarify the truth to a busload of tourists for example, we will do that within
the small surrounds of that group of people," he said.

"We are
always peaceful. We have never ever impaired the dignity of the embassy in any
way. We don’t shout abuse, we don’t obstruct them, there’s no aggression, we don’t
stop them going about their business in any way.

"Mr Downer issued
these certificates based on a lie and based on pressure from the Chinese embassy
to shut us down."


Posting date: 3/April/2006
Original article date: 3/April/2006
Media Report


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