Thursday, April 4, 2002
More than 50 followers of the Falun Gong spiritual movement sued the Chinese government in U.S. District Court yesterday, charging that Chinese embassies and consulates across the country were directing a "continuing criminal enterprise" of death threats, break-ins, beatings, arson and wiretappings against them.
Falun Gong followers have filed several human rights suits against Chinese officials in U.S. courts in recent months, but those were on behalf of plaintiffs in China. Yesterday's suit was apparently the first to charge Beijing with continuing its confrontation with the movement's followers in this country.
"The Chinese government has launched a criminal enterprise in the United States," said Martin F. McMahon, the lawyer filing the suit. "They're hiring thugs to beat up, follow or harass Falun Gong practitioners . . . [they] don't care about our Bill of Rights."
In the 57-page suit, the plaintiffs charge that after the Chinese government banned the movement in China in July 1999, a parallel system of harassment began in the United States.
In a case built entirely on circumstantial evidence -- there have been no arrests in any of the more than 60 incidents catalogued in the suit -- the practitioners say the Chinese government is behind the harassment, stalkings and beatings of Falun Gong members in Washington, New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Chicago and smaller towns such as Tempe, Ariz., and Mebane, N.C.
Gail Rachlin, a public relations executive and prominent Falun Gong member in New York, said her apartment was broken into three times in the three months after the crackdown in Beijing, but the only things stolen were a copy of her income tax returns and her datebook.
Sen Nieh, a professor of mechanical engineering at the Catholic University of America in Washington, has found messages on his telephone voice mail that are recordings of conversations he had in public restaurants with other Falun Gong practitioners. And in Chicago, salesman Lin Zhan Tong's car was torched last December when the back seat was full of Falun Gong materials.
The Chinese government, which has banned the movement in China as an "[slanderous term used by Jiang regime]," has acknowledged that it has tried to stop Falun Gong newspaper advertisements in the United States, mostly in Chinese-language papers. It has also urged cities across the United States to rescind proclamations honoring or even mentioning the movement.
"This suit is groundless and slanderous, as we have done none of these things," said Chen Ligang, a consular officer at the Chinese Embassy in Washington. "They play music so loud in front of the embassy, seven days a week, that we can't concentrate inside. If you just stand and look, you can see who is harassing who."
Falun Gong, which first gained popularity in China in 1992, is a
Buddhist-like practice. It uses stretching and meditation as a means of promoting inner calm and spirituality, and has its own cosmology.
Falun Gong activists say that Chinese security forces have killed hundreds of Falun Gong followers and imprisoned at least 10,000 others in a campaign to crush the group.
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