Dec 3, 2021

Falun Gong performers blocked from Perth Christmas Pageant over 'political, security issues'

By Marta Pascual Juanola and Hamish Hastie
WA Today
December 3, 2021

Falun Gong practitioners have been blocked from taking part in this Saturday’s Perth Christmas Pageant after organisers deemed the spiritual movement was too political and could give rise to “security issues” at the event.

In email correspondence seen by WAtoday, the Falun Dafa Association was initially offered a place in the event, run by billionaire Kerry Stokes’ Seven West Media, but the invitation was revoked 10 days later.

Seven organisers told the group the pageant was an apolitical event and their presence could lead to the “airing of international political issues”.

“The pageant is not a forum for those involved in such issues to be represented, and it gives rise to potential conflict and security issues for the event,” an email to the organisation on Monday said.

It is the second time the group has been dropped from the event.

On the eve of the 2018 pageant, Falun Gong performers were told they could not join the parade, which they believed was a result of pressure from the Perth Chinese Consulate on Seven West Media organisers.

The group was eventually allowed to perform after an eleventh-hour backflip, but they were banned from wearing anything that could identify them as Falun Gong, including the movement’s motto of “truthfulness, compassion, and tolerance” printed on their drums.

Before 2018, the group had been a regular performer at the pageant, which is one of Perth’s biggest events and attracts crowds of about 200,000 people every year.

Falun Gong practitioner Mark Hutchison was surprised when he received an email from Seven West Media last month informing him the group was approved to participate in the event.

After a follow-up email to ensure the group would be allowed to be introduced as Falun Dafa, another name for Falun Gong, he was told they could no longer be accommodated.

“Costuming and the dancing is fine, but we cannot allow any advertising or symbolism for participant groups, this is something uniform across the board as it always has been but more strongly enforced this year,” Seven West Media’s events director responded in an email.

Mr Hutchison said the group’s performance, which involved a routine with 40 drummers and dancers and a golden dragon, wasn’t political and worried practitioners who had come to Australia fleeing prosecution in China were being stripped of their identity by the government that jailed them.

Falun Gong claims it is a peaceful mediation movement that champions compassion and tolerance. The group is banned by the Chinese Communist Party, which considers it a cult.

“I think most West Australian people would be concerned if they knew that a very peaceful and kind group of people could be squashed by a single phone call from the Chinese Consulate in Perth,” Mr Hutchison said.

“These people are there to embody the beauty of their practice and the calmness that emanates. When you strip them of their identity, and you do that at the command of the Chinese Communist Party, fundamentally the persecution has made it across Australian shores.”

The Perth Chinese Consulate did not answer direct questions over whether it had pressured Seven West Media to remove Falun Dafa performers from the pageant, however a spokesperson blasted the Falun Gong movement as a malicious “doomsday” cult.

“Falun Gong is nothing but an evil cult that has all the inherent characteristics of a cult: worship of its leader, systematic mind control, spreading heretic ideas, amassing wealth, secret organisation and endangering the society,” the spokesperson said.

“Falun Gong bears strong resemblance to heterodox groups like Branch Davidian in the United States and Japanese Aum Doomsday Cult. And it was thus outlawed by the Chinese government in response to the demand of the Chinese people in 1999.

“Western Australian communities need to stay on high alert against Falun Gong, an anti-human, anti-science evil cult as well as an anti-China political organisation.”

Seven West Media did not respond to requests for comment.

The City of Perth, which is hosting the event, directed questions to Seven West Media.

It is not the first time Beijing’s influence has been felt at Australian events.

In October, the Hong Kong stall at Australia’s largest Asian festival, the Lucky Dumpling Market in Adelaide, were banned from using yellow umbrellas, which are seen as a symbol of resistance.

The group agreed to drop the umbrellas, but they were later told by organisers they could not perform because the workshops had been cancelled due to COVID restrictions.

They later learned there was space for performances from other groups, including at least five from mainland Chinese associations.

In a similar case, organisers of a popular Brisbane market moved a Hong Kong crafts stall out of the main thoroughfare after 10 months citing space constraints. However, the owners believed they were pushed out because of complaints from pro-Beijing locals.

In February 2020, the WA State Theatre Centre apologised to the Chinese government after a Taiwanese dance troupe hired its facilities and raised a flag that “did not align with the Commonwealth’s one-China policy”.

In December 2020, WA’s new $396 million museum removed a statement in a digital exhibit that suggested COVID-19 originated in China after complaints from the Chinese community and consul-general, who insisted the origin of the virus was not yet known.

Marta Pascual Juanola is a breaking news reporter at The Age.Connect via Twitter or email.
Hamish Hastie is WAtoday's political reporter.Connect via Twitter or email.

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