Sat, Jul 02, 2016 - Page 9 News List

Falun Gong sues over cult claims

The spiritual movement accuses the Chinese Anti-Cult World Alliance of being a proxy in the US for the Chinese Communist Party

By Corey Kilgannon  /  NY Times News Service, NEW YORK

Illustration: Constance Chou

In China, practitioners of the Falun Gong spiritual movement have long complained of propaganda campaigns, imprisonment and torture at the hands of the Chinese government.

In Flushing, Queens, which has perhaps the largest Falun Gong following in the US, members say their adversaries are a handful of spirited Chinese immigrants who tend a small folding table set up every day in front of a Chinese restaurant on a stretch of Main Street that is bustling with Chinese immigrants.

The opposition group distributes materials denouncing Falun Gong as an evil cult, an epithet that the organization incorporates into its name, the Chinese Anti-Cult World Alliance.

Having staked out their turf in Flushing, the two factions have long waged a bitter ideological battle.

Now, a new battle front has opened — in a Brooklyn courthouse.

Members of Falun Gong have filed a federal lawsuit against the anti-cult group seeking relief from what they call “an ongoing campaign of violent assaults, threats, intimidation and other abuses.”

The lawsuit accuses the alliance of collaborating with the Chinese government by persecuting Falun Gong in the US and seeking “to purge Flushing of Falun Gong.”

The suit, which details more than 20 assaults against, and confrontations with, the plaintiffs, is asking the court for an order that would keep the anti-Falun Gong group away. It also claims that Falun Gong members have been subjected to “mob violence” from the opposition group.

Tom Fini, a lawyer representing the alliance, called the lawsuit baseless and said the plaintiffs’ main complaint against his clients was their labeling of Falun Gong as a cult.

Fini added that “the plaintiffs are trying to intimidate my clients, punishing them with a federal lawsuit to quash their right to free speech.”

He said the Falun Gong members were suing over “a handful of confrontations that they initiated” and were citing “a few scuffles where there has not been one serious injury or hospital visit.”

Not so, said Terri Marsh, a lawyer for the plaintiffs.

“That it hasn’t risen to the level of a beheading is beside the point,” Marsh said, adding that the anti-cult group’s regimen of attacks and intimidation — even if it is yelling and shoving — interferes with her clients’ religious freedom.

She said her clients “are not trying to stop their right to free speech — they really just want the violence to stop.”

ELIMINATION

The feud in Flushing dates back to 2008, when members of the alliance accused Falun Gong members of disrupting fundraising efforts on Main Street for victims of a deadly earthquake in China, partly to prevent funds from potentially winding up in the hands of the Chinese government, the opposition group charged.

The anti-cult group’s table soon appeared on Main Street, offering literature criticizing the Falun Gong ideology as extremist and an embarrassment to Chinese immigrants.

Not far from the alliance’s table is a Falun Gong spiritual center with its own sidewalk tables, where volunteers distribute fliers protesting their group’s treatment by the Chinese government and describing the ruthless methods it uses to try to eliminate the spiritual practice in China.

To hear Falun Gong members in Flushing tell it, they are meek practitioners who follow a moral philosophy based on truth, tolerance and compassion. They say they are preyed upon by the anti-cult group simply because of their beliefs.

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