Updated at 6:20 p.m. ET: Practitioners of the Falun Gong spiritual movement in San Francisco claim they have been the targets of a series of assaults orchestrated by the Chinese consulate, and they’re urging police and prosecutors to investigate the incidents as hate crimes.
Falun Gong practitioners have been harassed and assaulted at least nine times in past eight months -- seven times in Chinatown alone, said Sherry Zhang, spokeswoman for the Falun Gong in San Francisco. Police reports were filed in at least three cases, she said.
“We definitely want them to take this very seriously. It definitely is not an isolated incident anymore,” Zhang told msnbc.com on Wednesday.
San Francisco police said there's no indication to date that Chinese authorities are behind the attacks.
Falun Gong is outlawed in China, where the Communist Party leadership in 1999 declared it a “heretical organization” and views it as a destructive cult. Falun Gong leaders claim their adherents are persecuted and tortured in China, and that followers in the U.S. and other countries are harassed by people loyal to the Chinese government.
Falun Gong followers in San Francisco last week showed a video of an alleged assault to the Board of Supervisors and also held a demonstration outside City Hall.
The video was of a June 10 incident on a street corner in San Francisco's Chinatown where a group of Falun Gong practitioners had gathered, holding signs and handing out literature detailing what they said was the persecution and torture of followers in China.
In the video, which Zhang said was a compilation of shots by Falun Gong practitioners and bystanders, an older Chinese man in a hat allegedly curses at a Falun Gong member and then punches him in the face. As police arrive, another Chinese-speaking man in the crowd gestures toward a person filming the incident and, according to the videomaker’s translation, yells, “Don’t stare at me. If I in mainland China I would break your leg.” A 72-year-old man is being investigated for alleged battery in the case, according to the police report.
In another case on June 16, a Falun Gong member told police a Chinese man struck her wrist with a protest sign. The man was cited by police and released.
“These are hate crimes. The only reason for them is because people influenced by the Chinese Consulate want to attack Falun Gong,” Zhang told The Epoch Times, a newspaper founded by followers and supporters of Falun Gong.
“This attack targets a group of people because of their belief. In the United States, if you attack an individual or their belongings because of their belief, it’s regarded as a hate crime,” Ye Ning, a New York-based human rights attorney, told New Tang Dynasty Television, a broadcaster based in New York. “This incident in San Francisco does not appear to be a simple act of violence. There was no motive aside from hate."
The Chinese Consulate-General in San Francisco did not respond to a telephone call and email from msnbc.com for comment on Wednesday.
Police Officer Carlos Manfredi said Wednesday there's no indication in the police reports that the June 10 and June 16 incidents were the work of the Chinese consulate.
"As of right now the two separate incidents were simple battery. The suspects were charged and have court dates," he said.
Manfredi said, however, that police are still collecting information on all the incidents.
San Francisco Police Chief Greg Suhr told New Dynasty Television that authorities take allegations of hate crimes seriously.
“If the investigation shows that the folks were attacked based on their religion, then absolutely that would be the motivation and that would be a hate crime,” he said.
He said he couldn’t comment on allegations the attacks were coordinated until the investigation is completed, the TV station reported.
Claims of abuse of Falun Gong practitioners by government authorities in China are not new. Amnesty International recently issued an appeal on its website calling for international action to free two Falun Gong practitioners it said were detained and “at risk of torture.”
In 2005, Chen Yonglin, a diplomat at the Chinese Consulate-General in Sydney, defected to Australia and later said his job entailed collecting names and reporting on Falun Gong practitioners.
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