SAN FRANCISCO—For the past seven years practitioners of the spiritual discipline Falun Gong have been present on Chinatown’s Stockton Street telling passersby about the benefits of the practice and about the persecution of the group in China.
Until yesterday that wasn’t a reason to get arrested in San Francisco. But now—in a case that has caused Falun Gong practitioners to raise questions about their treatment in Chinatown—it is.
Cao Li, a Chinese lady in her thirties, is one of the volunteers who comes to Chinatown regularly.
“I come here to display a banner on Stockton showing the beauty and goodness of Falun Gong,” she said in her native Chinese.
Falun Gong, also known as Falun Dafa, is an ancient spiritual practice based on the principles of truthfulness, compassion, and tolerance. The Chinese regime launched a crackdown on the practice in 1999 after a state poll found that 100 million people were practicing—more than are members of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP).
Although volunteers come daily to Stockton St., Tuesday wasn’t quite the same as normal. They were approached by police asking them to take down the banners attached to a fence, after receiving a complaint by the property owner.
“The policemen came and asked us to put down the signs that we were actually originally attaching to the fence. So, we cooperated and held them in our hands,” said Cecilia Xiong, a volunteer in her thirties who is originally from mainland China.
Over the years police have from time to time made such a request and the issue has been resolved after the practitioners spoke to the property owners.
However, later on Tuesday more volunteers arrived, and some were not aware of what had occurred in the morning. Some banners were hung up again. When Cao returned to the site after having lunch, a police car arrived and officers walked directly up to her and asked her for her ID card.
Despite Cao’s inability to communicate in English she was given a citation as soon as she handed over her ID card. The police required her to sign the citation, but she refused.
“I just got back and I did not hang the banners,” Cao told police through someone translating, according to bystanders. “I didn’t sign because I didn’t do anything wrong,” said Cao after she was released from custody.
“The police wanted me to sign the citation but I don’t know anything about it; I don’t know how much the fine would be, or what crime it is. He wanted me to sign before any translation,” Cao said.
Police at Chinatown’s Central Station declined to comment on the case.
Cao’s arrest sparked an overnight protest that continued during the day in front of the Southern Police Station where Cao was held. She was eventually released at around 3pm on Wednesday without having signed any documents.
Ever since the start of the persecution of Falun Gong in 1999, the Chinese regime is known to have extended its hate campaign against the practice overseas through its embassies, consulates, and affiliated organizations.
The incident on Stockton Street comes just two weeks after two men of Chinese descent were found guilty by a neighborhood court of assaulting Falun Gong practitioners in Chinatown. The incident was preceded by at least 10 instances of violence aimed at members of the group since late last year.
For the practitioners in San Francisco the events on Tuesday have raised further questions about their treatment in Chinatown. They feel that the arrest of Cao unfairly singled them out.“I know that an old man in a red shirt previously hung panels in Chinatown that attacked and slandered Falun Gong—in over 10 years nobody came out to stop him,” said Lona Lou, a practitioner who was present all day Tuesday at the site on Stockton. In her forties and a teacher at a private Chinese-language school, Lou suffered persecution in mainland China because of her practice of Falun Gong.
“We are here telling people the facts about Falun Gong and trying to stop the persecution; that should be no problem in America,” Lou said.
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