Australian Falun Gong claims members harassed
The World Today - Thursday, 9 June , 2005 12:18:00
Reporter: Brendan Trembath
ELEANOR HALL: Mr Chen's allegations that Chinese agents have been spying on Falun Gong members in Australia has also raised questions about the way Australian authorities treat members of the group, which is legal here but banned in China.
And today Australia's Foreign Affairs Department has defended its attempts to restrict protests by Falun Gong practitioners outside the Chinese Embassy in Canberra.
Members of the spiritual movement have accused the Australian Government of changing its attitude to them in recent years, and say they've been harassed and even assaulted by Chinese diplomats in Sydney and Canberra, as Brendan Trembath reports.
BRENDAN TREMBATH: Australia has special rules to keep the peace outside the Chinese Embassy in Canberra. Practitioners of Falun Gong are free to meditate, but they can't play amplified music.
So Chinese diplomats are spared from hearing this sort of music, which tells how the group began.
MUSIC EXCERPT: In May of 1992, an astounding Qigong practice caused a sensation in Beijing, the capital city of China. With its profound principles and miraculous effects, it took this ancient city by storm.
The news travelled fast, as word spread from person to person. Very quickly the practice found its way to over 50 countries and regions around the world, and has been warmly welcomed by those governments.
BRENDAN TREMBATH: The Australian Government also stops protestors from attaching banners to walls or vehicles. A Department of Foreign Affairs spokeswoman says it's in line with an international agreement to protect the dignity and security of diplomatic staff.
But Falun Gong supporters say Foreign Minister Alexander Downer stopped the music several years ago for fear of offending his Chinese counterpart.
Jennifer Zeng is a Falun Gong practitioner who's written a book on the group's fight for acceptance. She says the Australian Government's attitude to Falun Gong has hardened.
JENNIFER ZENG: We think this is very wrong, and Australia is the only Western democratic country that restricts Falun Gong practitioners' right to (inaudible) banners. We are… in all the other (inaudible), Falun Gong practitioners are doing the same thing in any other countries, just except in Australia.
BRENDAN TREMBATH: China banned Falun Gong in 1999. Academics say the Government worried about a surge in membership and published material which attacked the Communist Party.
Jennifer Zeng says she was among the people persecuted for practising Falun Gong. She spent a year in a labour camp where she was abused physically and mentally.
Jennifer Zeng says even though she and other supporters are free to practice in Australia, Chinese diplomats have tried to stop them.
She says diplomats have harassed and even assaulted Falun Gong members.
JENNIFER ZENG: There are many, many of that kind of cases, and even to the extent that actually a Chinese official walked out of the Chinese Embassy in Canberra and actually slapped the face of a female Falun Gong practitioner called Jen Shi (phonetic) on her face, and when this lady protested this is Australia, she has the right to be there and to just keep doing mediation there, and that a Chinese official says I'm a Chinese diplomat. Who cares? What can Australia do to me.
BRENDAN TREMBATH: The Australian Federal Police have confirmed they enforce the ban on amplified music and banners. The Department of Foreign Affairs says the ban is renewed monthly. A Federal Police spokesman says the protestors are well aware of the limits, and police have not taken any action.
While China calls Falun Gong a "sinister religious cult", Jennifer Zeng says that's propaganda.
JENNIFER ZENG: And before actually the crackdown in 1999, Falun Gong spread in China for seven years, and the Chinese Government at that time actually encouraged people to practice.
ELEANOR HALL: Falun Gong practitioner Jennifer Zeng ending that report by Brendan Trembath.
Originally published at: http://www.abc.net.au/worldtoday/content/2005/s1388451.htm