Parts of Auckland’s Chinese community may be turning on National MP Simon O’Connor after he waded in to comment on the actions of a man disrupting a Falun Gong protest.
An Auckland Chinese businessman named Freddy Chen appeared in Auckland District Court on charges of wilful damage, a threatening act and possession of a knife.
The charges come after an incident on July 1 when the retail business owner approached a Falun Gong protest in Mission Bay and cut through a banner with a knife.
Video footage taken by supporters of Chen were later uploaded online. They show him slicing through a banner, which displayed anti-Chinese Communist Party (CCP) messages alleging the Chinese government of a cover-up around the genesis of the coronavirus.
National’s Tāmaki MP Simon O’Connor made a statement on social media accusing Chen of “brazen harassment of peaceful protesters” and said he would be following up with the police.
“What is extraordinary, is this thug had himself filmed by accomplices and then brazenly published his exploits to WeChat celebrating his support of the Chinese Communist Party,” he said. “The hypocrisy of such people amazes me – to enjoy our freedoms here in New Zealand and yet celebrate and support the authoritarian and abusive regime in China.”
Chen responded through WeChat channels condemning O’Connor’s response and disputing he had used the knife to threaten the protesters, accusing him of “interference with judicial fairness”.
Chen is calling on the Chinese community to turn their backs on O’Connor in Tāmaki.
However, his actions were also criticised by Act candidate Brooke van Velden, who said she had met with Falun Gong protester Fan Yang and supported his right to express his opinion without fear of harm.
“Every member of our community deserves to feel safe and to know their rights of freedom of expression are protected in New Zealand, especially when they come from countries with fewer rights,” she said.
“Every Kiwi, whether they have lived here for generations or have made their home here recently from China, should feel valued and safe and free to express their opinions in our country.”
With the court case approaching, Chen created a Give A Little page to cover his legal fees.
At first, the page alleged the protesters were suing Chen in court, when in reality he was appearing under three criminal charges. The page was amended to reflect this some time in the past week, although still contains the line: “the individuals behind the slanderous campaign had filed a lawsuit against me”.
Chen’s campaign has been very successful, netting $26,579 in donations in just 18 days.
He promised bathroom products from his own retail business to supporters in exchange for financial donations.
Donations of more than $300 would receive a smart toilet seat, while donations of more than $10 would receive a stainless steel pot.
Chen said the pandemic and pursuant economic downturn had taken a heavy toll on his bathroom products business. As the world emerged from the pandemic years, Chen saw a “glimmer of hope” – but said the anti-CCP messaging of the protest made it difficult for Chinese people to live and own businesses overseas.
He said the protesters’ message of the Chinese government playing a deliberate role in the global pandemic was false information, “creating a panic among nations”.
Apparently, when he saw the protesters, he saw red.
“I was furious. Anger surged within me as I watched them sow chaos and discord,” he said. “I couldn’t stand idly by, so I rushed forward to confront them, intent on tearing down their malicious banner and putting an end to their lies.”
But Chen said his actions would lead to a twist he never saw coming:
“Instead of being hailed as a hero, I found myself in a courtroom, facing accusations of assault and damage to property.”
However, Falun Gong supporter Daisy Lee suggested it was more organised than spur of the moment.
At least two others had accompanied Chen to the site of the protest to film him.
The footage was then distributed widely. Lee said the location of the protest had been broadcast widely in an email blast, making it simple enough for him to figure out where and when it would be taking place.
Lee said members of the Falun Gong community had serious concerns around not only the offence but the incitement of discord by the defendant spreading videos of the incident on social media.
Yang, meanwhile, alleged Chen had “wielded the knife towards” him and his wife after ripping through the banner.
Falun Gong, or Falun Dafa, is a Chinese movement founded by Li Hongzhi in 1992 with teaching drawing on Buddhism and Taoism, and was soon identified by the Chinese government as a source of political dissent.