NEW YORK—A mother and her 8-year-old daughter walked into a restaurant along Main Street in Flushing, Queens in June 2008. Moments later, they were kicked out. A waitress was photographed opening the door for them, a scowl on her face, her thumb extended toward the street.
Huang Wei and her daughter brought the case to the city, and Lucky Joy was eventually closed. Huang and her daughter were denied service, it turned out, because of their religious beliefs. They practice Falun Gong, and the owner of the restaurant was found guilty of discrimination.
Despite the legal victory, Falun Gong practitioners in Flushing still face nearly constant prejudice and harassment. The ill treatment is not coming from local businesses like Lucky Joy. Groups believed to be associated with the Chinese regime are operating on the streets with city permits and targeting the practitioners.
Linda Chun, 53, said she’s not sure what to do at this point. She practices Falun Gong, and one group in Flushing has on several occasions surrounded her, insulted her, and harassed her. She tears up when she starts talking about it.
The situation, she and others said, is one of daily mental pressure.
A campaign targeting Falun Gong practitioners in Flushing started in May 2008. A large group of people showed up waving Chinese regime flags, shoving and spitting on local residents who practice Falun Gong. Many people who tried challenging them received death threats.
Li Ming, 59, wears oval glasses with black rims. She’s soft spoken and has a genuine tone in her voice. She was there in Flushing the day the attacks started and said the current situation developed out of those attacks.
On the surface, the incident may look like two groups of Chinese people having a dispute—and this is how the local police have treated it.
Li Ming and many other Chinese residents in Flushing believe the Chinese regime was behind those attacks and also behind the current unpleasantness.
“In American society people are unaware of the situation inside China. They don’t understand it,” she said. “Even Chinese people who have been here for a long time, they don’t understand it.”
“I know how the Chinese Communist Party does these kinds of things in China, but people here can’t recognize it,” she said.
On May 21, 2008, an investigator for the World Organization to Investigate the Persecution of Falun Gong called Peng Keyu, the then-Chinese consul general. Peng, believing he was talking with an associate, explained that he had met with and encouraged people of Flushing to attack Falun Gong practitioners.
Peng said the attacks happened because of the consulate general’s “work on the Chinese community.” After the attacks happened, Peng said he “went to probably eight or nine places. I went to [their] associations to thank them.” Many Chinese associations are known to work closely with the Chinese regime to advance its interests on a variety of fronts.
The most prominent of three organizations in Flushing opposed to Falun Gong uses the same name and materials as the China Anti-Cult Association. According to China analyst Heng He, the anti-cult association was set up by the Chinese Communist Party as a civil society organization devoted to attacking Falun Gong.
In fact, according to Heng He, there are no civil society organizations such as are common in the West. Every organization must be under the umbrella of a Party or a state organization. The anti-cult association accepts the leadership of the 610 Office.
The 610 Office is China’s equivalent to the Gestapo. It’s an extra-judicial Communist Party organization created specifically to monitor, arrest, torture, and brainwash Falun Gong practitioners.
The situation in Flushing is comparable to a community of Holocaust survivors facing an offshoot of the Nazi Gestapo distributing anti-Jewish propaganda with a city permit.
In Flushing, many of the Falun Gong practitioners are victims of torture. Many are here on asylum, because they have demonstrated they are likely to face persecution should they return to China. Many have had their lives destroyed and their families broken apart by the 610 Office.
When she was in China, Li Ming was tortured by agents of the 610 Office on several occasions. Between 1999 and 2007, she was imprisoned seven times for her beliefs.
She said her last sentence was the worst. She was sent to a brainwashing facility where she was tortured in ways that shock the conscience. She was tied up, stretched, and brutally beaten on a daily basis. The camp was famous for “transforming” every person who came in.
Li was the first person the camp failed to transform. She said, “Even the head of the 610 Office knew of me because of that.”
She’s alive today because she escaped in 2007. Just a year after she arrived in New York, the incidents started in Flushing, and now she is regularly harassed by an organization sharing the same name and materials as the one that tortured her in China.
“Having people do what they’re doing in China here is just an example of how the Chinese regime is trying to bring what it’s doing here to the United States,” she said.
There is a general consensus among residents that the city and local police don’t understand the nature of what’s taking place. Because of this, many residents who practice Falun Gong feel they’re on their own to face what they view as the Chinese regime exporting its persecution to the United States.
Zhang Jing Rong, 74, was a researcher at Tsinghua University, one of China’s top universities. She moved to New Jersey in 2006 to take care of her grandchildren, and then moved to Flushing in 2008 as the attacks and harassment were starting.
Rong has deep smile lines on her face. She laughs often and her face seems to glow. Yet, she talks about the situation in Flushing with very somber tones.
“The CCP is infiltrating into our society,” she said. “I’m confused why it’s allowed to happen like this.”
“There are so many accounts of harassment,” she said. “This sort of thing should not be allowed to happen in America.”
Additional reporting by Karen Cheng