Newsday.com, Jan. 31, 2003
By Bryan Virasami
Falun Gong practitioners will be allowed to march in tomorrow’s Lunar New Year Parade in Flushing after they agreed not to hand out fliers or do slow-motion exercises.
Last night’s decision by parade organizers came weeks after members of the group requested permission to march and after a threat by the city’s Commission on Human Rights to investigate claims of bias if the group were not allowed to participate.
“This is the right thing to do,” Janet Xiong, a Falun Gong practitioner, said after the meeting. “You can’t exclude anybody, this is our American value.”
Last year, Falun Gong members were barred from taking part in the annual parade until minutes before the march kicked off on Main Street.
“Every group can join, but don’t show anything about politics and religion,” said Fred Fu, president of the Flushing Chinese Business Association and parade chairman. “I don’t care if your group is political, but celebrate only New Year at the parade.”
Fu said practitioners have politicized past celebrations by handing out literature while marching and delayed the parade by pausing to perform slow-motion exercises.
Falun Gong leaders in Queens, however, say the organizing committee was bowing to pressure from groups sympathetic to mainland China, where the movement is banned.
Jian Feng Zhou, a practitioner from Elmhurst, said the committee’s references to politics and religion were excuses used by organizers being pressured by the Chinese consulate in Manhattan.
A spokesman at the consulate declined to comment.
Falun Gong is a spiritual movement that uses slow-motion exercises and meditation, which followers say promotes better health and morality. Falun Gong was banned by the Chinese government in July 1999 when it was labeled an “evil cult.” Falun Gong leaders say hundreds of practitioners have been killed or jailed in China since the ban.
The Chinese government estimates 70 million followers are in China.
Flushing Councilman John Liu didn’t take sides yesterday but said organizers should be allowed to set their own rules.
After being contacted by Falun Gong, the city’s Human Rights Commission sent a letter to Fu on Jan. 23 saying that a public event cannot exclude groups based on religion or other factors prohibited under city law. The letter also warned of a fine of up to $100,000 if an investigation concluded Falun Gong was illegally barred.
Earlier this week, Mayor Michael Bloomberg lifted a ban on firecrackers during New Year celebrations. Fireworks by Grucci will supervise a controlled display tomorrow in Chinatown. Personal use of firecrackers is not allowed.