14 March 2023

Falun Gong protester assaulted by man who thought her signs were 'an affront to his homeland'

| Albert McKnight
woman and man

Nancy Dong (left) was assaulted by Kang Zhao (right) after he spray-painted over her anti-Chinese Communist Party signs. Photos: Albert McKnight.

A Falun Gong protester, who says she spent a year in a Chinese labour camp over her beliefs, was assaulted by a man in Canberra who thought her political signs were “an affront to his homeland”.

On 4 October, 2021, Nancy Dong found two men, Kang Zhao and another, spray-painting over the anti-Chinese Communist Party (CCP) signs on her car while it was parked in Acton.

She tried to get them to stop and started filming them, but they continued spraying. While the other man eventually ran away after painting over a sign, Zhao ripped her phone from her hands and walked away.

His wife was standing nearby and Ms Dong grabbed her by her jacket and handbag to try to stop her from leaving.

Zhao came back, grabbed her in return while telling her to let go of his wife, then all three fell to the ground as a scuffle broke out.

The 30-year-old Zhao was arrested at Sydney Airport when he was trying to board a plane in December 2022, then he spent 15 days in jail before he was granted bail.

When he appeared in the ACT Magistrates Court for sentencing on Thursday (9 March), he pleaded guilty to charges of assault, defacing property and damaging property.

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Ms Dong gave a statement to the court, in which she wrote her signs had said, “CCP is not equal to China” and “End the evil CCP”.

“I never imagined that I would encounter such a violent assault because of this,” the 55-year-old said.

She said when she was in China she suffered from “brutal persecution” for practising Falun Gong, a spiritual movement that has been banned in the country.

She said she had been arrested many times before a dozen police officers broke into her home at midnight and carted her and her husband away, leaving their nine-year-old daughter at home alone.

“Because of not giving up practising Falun Gong, I was illegally sent to the labour camp for one year and my husband one and a half years,” she said.

“We were forced to do 12-14 hours’ labour every day, making plastic flowers, handmade products, lighters, etc. The living and working conditions were extremely harsh.”

Ms Dong told Zhao that while he had hurt her “so much” both physically and mentally, she did not hate him because she knew he was a victim of the CCP’s “brainwashing education”.

She also told him: “I hope that you can understand that CCP is not China and please respect others’ freedom of expression.”

Zhao’s barrister, James Maher, told the court his client had perceived Ms Dong’s messages as being “an affront to his homeland”, but he was now embarrassed about his conduct.

He said Zhao had written about the despair he endured during the two weeks he spent in custody, including how he had to sleep on a wet mattress that smelled of urine.

His wife and child have now returned home and he wanted to leave Australia as soon as possible.

Prosecutor Colin Balog argued the defacing property offence had clearly been planned, as Zhao had referred to that in his letter of apology and the group had brought paint with them.

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Magistrate James Lawton said Zhao had “acted foolishly” when trying to protect his wife and their property, which had resulted in him spending 15 days in custody. He said this was a significant factor in the case as the offences wouldn’t normally result in a custodial sentence.

He convicted Zhao on each charge and fined him a total of $3000.

Zhao was seen approaching Ms Dong and speaking to her outside the courtroom. Through an interpreter, she told media he had said, “I heard you”, which she had taken as an apology.

“I am remorseful for my impulsive behaviour in recklessly damaging the property, graffiti and common assault,” Zhao later said in a statement.

“I am grateful for his honour’s findings that I acted excessively to protect my wife and her property in relation to the common assault. This is a big lesson and something I take very seriously.”

The other man was issued with a criminal infringement notice for defacing private property.

Daily Digest

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