Falun Gong practitioners in Thailand have moved to allay fears about the group's activities, as China expressed concern over a court ruling in the organisation's favour.
The Supreme Administrative Court last week overturned a Central Administrative Court's ruling preventing Falun Gong being registered as an association. The controversial movement is now able to be legally registered.
Paitoon Suriyawongpaisan, a 60-year-old Bangkok dentist who has practised Falun Gong for 17 years, said he was glad the association would be able to provide spiritual benefit to Thai people.
“The association is aimed at providing alternative ways of health care and mental care to people,” said Mr Paitoon, who led the legal campaign.
Falun Gong is outlawed in China, which calls the organisation a dangerous cult and a threat to national stability. Activists have long said practitioners have been subjected to human rights abuses.
Falun Gong is a qigong Chinese spiritual discipline combining slow-moving exercises and meditation with a moral philosophy centred on the three tenets — truthfulness, compassion and tolerance.
Falun Gong is practised openly in the West and Asian countries including Thailand, Singapore, Taiwan, Japan and Indonesia.
Mr Paitoon said the presence of Falun Gong in those countries did not hamper economic or business ties between the hosts and China as feared.
On Wednesday, a day after the court’s ruling, senior Chinese officials from the embassy reportedly had a session with Deputy Prime Minister Prawit Wongsuwon, who oversees national security, about the decision. The embassy was reassured Thai officials would carefully study the details of the order allowing the Falun Gong association's registration.
Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Tanasak Patimapragorn said yesterday the Chinese embassy has not formally asked to meet Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha for talks over Falun Gong.
Mr Paitoon was among the three plaintiffs, alongside Panida Wayumhasuwan and Chatchalai Sutthakanat, who have waged a decade-long court battle.
After the Interior Ministry rejected their request to register the association of “Falun Gong Studies in Thailand” in 2005, they took the case to the Central Administrative Court. On Feb 2, 2006, the court ruled in the Interior Ministry's favour. The three then appealed to the Supreme Administrative Court.
“Nationwide, there might be less than 100 people practising Falun Gong openly due to the propaganda against us,” said Sunitree Wannagool, a 57-year-old housewife living in Nakhon Pathom.
She said a dozen people took part in Falun Gong activities every evening in a residential compound in Nakhon Chaisi district. A weekly Sunday morning exercise would soon start at Buddha Monthon.
Benja Pongprayoon, 56, also from Nakhon Pathom, said she feels relieved now that justice was given to the practitioners.
“We can proceed confidently and comfortably now as we are recognised legally.”
The group's activities in China started years before Beijing launched a campaign to “eradicate” it on July 20, 1999. Li Hongzhi introduced it in May 1992 in the capital of China’s northeastern province of Jilin.
But after about seven years of meteoric growth, with claims of 100 million members, the sect was persecuted and Mr Li was forced into exile in the US.
Beijing dubbed the sect a “cult of evil” and pressured as many countries as possible to downplay the presence and significance of Falun Gong disciples.