WASHINGTON (AFP) — Two US lawmakers accused the Chinese government Thursday of instigating attacks on practitioners of the Falun Gong spiritual group in New York and called on Washington to lodge a protest with Beijing.
The practitioners of the sect, which is banned in China, were attacked last month in Flushing, in the New York City borough of Queens, when they were holding meetings and passing out fliers against the Chinese communist leadership.
Six people were arrested -- three charged with assault and others with disorderly conduct, the New York Times reported at the weekend, quoting local police.
Falun Gong members circulated what they said was a recording of a telephone conversation in Mandarin between an investigator working on their behalf and a high-ranking official in the Chinese Consulate in New York in which the official was heard approving of the scuffles in Flushing, the newspaper said.
Republican lawmakers Tom Tancredo and Dana Rohrabacher charged Thursday that the Chinese government were behind the attacks and called on President George W. Bush's administration to lodge a protest with Beijing and seek an immediate explanation.
"I believe that the Chinese consulate and others who were responsible for organizing these thugs and attacking people who were peacefully going about their business," Tancredo, the representative from Colorado, told a forum on Capitol Hill.
"The government of the United States should investigate this and, if I am accurate in my assumption about the cause, should lodge a protest to the government of China, and take a strong an action as possible, including the request for the removal of the offending parties," he said.
Judy Chen, 48, a Chinese-American mother of two sons serving in Iraq with the US military, said she was among those assaulted.
"Am I in China or America?" asked Chen, who said she emigrated to the United States after her family members were victimized during the Cultural Revolution.
Falun Gong combines meditation with Buddhist-inspired teachings, but was declared an "evil cult" in mid-1999 by Beijing and practitioners have subsequently faced often brutal repression.
The two lawmakers said the attacks on the Falun Gong practitioners were a clear violation of the right of religious freedom in the United States.
"We may not be able to help the people of China directly but we can help the people who live here directly," Rohrabacher said, adding that the US Congress would push the authorities to get to the bottom of the issue.