NEW YORK—A man has been arrested after witnesses reported seeing him on numerous occasions vandalizing information stands in the Flushing neighborhood of New York that sought to shed light on the Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) long-running persecution of the faith group Falun Gong.
The suspect, 32-year-old Zheng Buqiu of Flushing, was arrested at about noon on Feb. 15 near the intersection of Main Street and Kissena Boulevard, not far from the four booths he repeatedly damaged over four days since Feb. 10.
Police have charged Zheng with a hate crime and criminal mischief in the fourth degree, an officer told The Epoch Times. Both crimes are punishable by up to one year in jail.
The man, subsequently identified as Zheng, wearing a black cap and black shirt that revealed tattoos covering both arms and parts of his chest, began his vandalism on Main Street in Flushing. At one information stand in front of the Golden Shopping Mall on Feb. 11, he punched and kicked a display board imprinted with the words “Truthfulness, Compassion, and Tolerance”—the three tenets of the spiritual discipline Falun Gong—video footage of the incident shows.
He then toppled a table, scattering informational booklets as well as metal frames that had propped up display boards, before hauling the destroyed boards away; he also broke a portable speaker by stomping on it.
Earlier in the day, Zheng had hurled information materials to the ground and attempted to smash a table, which volunteers tried to shield with their bodies, at another booth in front of the Queens Public Library. the volunteers said. The man left before returning with his shirt off, ripping a display board before volunteers blocked him from causing further damage.
The incident at the mall left Xu Weiguo, a volunteer who filmed part of the vandalism, sleepless that night.
“As a woman here, this is really unsettling,” she told The Epoch Times on Feb. 11. “I’ve never seen anything like this since I came to America over 10 years ago.”
She and other volunteers see the attack as part of an intimidation campaign orchestrated by the CCP to deter them from speaking out against the regime’s human rights abuses.
“It left a lingering fear in me,” she said. That man’s “brazenness even on American soil,” she said, was “simply beyond comprehension.”
Adherents of Falun Gong in China have been systematically persecuted by the CCP for more than two decades. Those overseas seeking to raise awareness about the issue have experienced consistent efforts by the CCP and its proxies to thwart their activities.
Millions of believers have been imprisoned or sent to other government facilities, where they are subject to forced labor, beatings, forced feeding, and sexual abuse intended to coerce them to give up their faith. Imprisoned adherents have also been victims of forced organ harvesting.
As the Olympic Games commenced in Beijing, the New York-based Falun Dafa Information Center identified more than a dozen prison camps around the Olympic venues in Beijing and nearby cities, where detentions and torture are still taking place.
Zheng made several attacks on four separate days, before being arrested about an hour after he knocked over a Falun Gong information table at the library and pulled down lotus flowers adorning the display, which caused the adherents to alert the police.
At least six officers were present to apprehend the suspect, who was wearing a black hooded jacket and black cap, video footage of the arrest shows.
Zheng was released on bail on Feb. 16. The court issued an order of protection barring him from coming close to two Falun Gong practitioners. His next court appearance is set for March 30.
A Call for Awareness
Yi Rong, a spokesperson for the Falun Gong Spiritual Center, expressed appreciation and relief for Zheng’s arrest. She thanked the police for taking prompt action to “restore peace to the Flushing community.”
The harassment targeting Falun Gong has caused a sense of insecurity within the Chinese community, said Yi, who urged the U.S. government to enhance measures to protect the community so that hate crimes like this wouldn’t happen again.
Many of these volunteers standing at the booth experienced the Chinese regime’s persecution first hand before they sought refuge in America, and they look to the U.S. government to protect their freedom of belief, Yi told The Epoch Times.
The same sentiment was also shared by state Assembly district leader Martha Flores-Vazquez. At a gathering she organized on Feb. 13, she pointed to a table that had been toppled by the assailant, calling it “a major disrespect.”
“We do not welcome the hate crimes, we do not welcome criminal activities coming here to dismantle a table, to dismantle a culture,” she said. “This is not China, this is America.”
The information booths are one of the principal ways that Falun Gong adherents inform local residents and tourists about the plight of their fellow adherents in China. That’s also made them a prominent target for attack.
For months in 2008, mobs of ethnic Chinese people waved red communist flags and spat on, cursed, and physically attacked Falun Gong practitioners in Flushing who were handing out printed materials related to Falun Gong. Similar incidents have occurred elsewhere, including in Australia, Japan, and more recently in Hong Kong.
Last April, masked perpetrators vandalized six information booths in several Hong Kong districts about a dozen times, using knives and spray paint to damage signage at the stands. The damage was estimated to be around HK$30,000 (about US$3,845).
Yi vowed that Falun Gong adherents won’t be silenced.
“We have not given up our belief in mainland China, even less would we give up here,” she said.
Linda Lin contributed to this report.
Update: This article has been updated to include details of Zheng’s bail.