About 40 members of Chinese spiritual movement Falun Gong gathered in front of City Hall today to again speak out against the Chinese Chamber of Commerce and to demand a place in the upcoming Chinese New Year's Parade.
"This year, again, we have been rejected in our bid to march in the parade," Falun Gong spokeswoman Sherry Zhang told the noontime crowd of reporters. "We have members who are residents of San Francisco - engineers, business owners, housewives. They are part of the Chinese Community."
The Chinese Chamber of Commerce has excluded the controversial group from its parade on the grounds that the celebration isn't a place for political groups. Falun Gong members insist they are simply a group committed to self-improvement through meditation and exercise. They are sharply critical of the Chinese government, which outlawed their group five years ago as "an evil cult."
Zhang said she suspects the group has been excluded because the Chinese Chamber of Commerce is acting at the behest of the Chinese government.
"We believe the true reason is the strong business ties between the Chinese government and the Chamber," she said.
Wayne Hu, organizer of the annual parade, was not immediately available for comment.
The Falun Gong news conference was organized following some ads taken out by the Chinese Chamber of Commerce that blasted the group in local newspapers. In the ads, the chamber attacks Falun Gong and allegedly refers to them as a homophobic cult. The ad also reportedly accuses Falun Gong of violating a chamber rule by handing out leaflets during last year's parade.
San Francisco State student Yukichi Negishi, who attended the demonstration, said the ad is an example of how Falun Gong followers continued to be discriminated against on U.S. soil.
"The Chinese Chamber of Commerce is participating in the persecution in China by continuously slandering us," he said.
San Francisco resident and Falun Gong member Kip Koh disputed the charges of homophobia raised in the chamber's ads.
"We don't advocate homosexuality, but we don't tell people what to do in their private lives either. We welcome everyone. Our three basic tenets are "truth, compassion and tolerance,'" he said.
The San Francisco Board of Supervisors will vote this afternoon on a resolution by Supervisors Chris Daly and Fiona Ma condemning the persecution of Falun Gong practitioners.