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China Arrests U.S. Member of Outlawed Group

American Embassy confirms that the California man is accused of sabotage.

January 31, 2003|Anthony Kuhn | Special to The Times

BEIJING -- Chinese police have arrested a U.S. citizen and accused him of sabotaging state broadcasting equipment in China, the U.S. Embassy said Thursday.

The Falun Gong spiritual group identified the man as Charles Li of Menlo Park, Calif., and said he was a member of their organization.

Although several Chinese Falun Gong adherents have been jailed for disrupting state broadcasts, this appears to be the first such case involving a U.S. citizen.

An embassy spokeswoman said his passport identified the detained man as Chuck Lee. She said he was taken into custody at an airport in the southern city of Guangzhou on Jan. 22, then transferred two days later to the eastern city of Yangzhou, the site of the alleged crime.

The same day, Chinese police notified the U.S. Consulate in Shanghai of Lee's arrest, and a consular officer visited Lee in Yangzhou four days later.

The officer found Lee in good health, the spokeswoman said.

Chinese authorities have not yet announced the date of Lee's trial.

"We urge the U.S. government and the American people to help rescue Charles from China," Falun Gong spokesman Zhang Erping said in a statement. The group said Lee denied the charges.

Speaking from California by telephone, Lee's girlfriend, Yeong Ching Foo, said: "I'm really worried about Charles. I know he has done nothing wrong, and I believe he will come home soon."

She said Lee, 37, immigrated to the U.S. in the early 1990s, received a medical degree from the University of Illinois and worked as a medical researcher at Harvard.

"The police just arrested him because they know he's a Falun Gong practitioner," said Foo, also a Falun Gong member.

She said he may have been carrying videodiscs with Falun Gong material.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Zhang Qiyue said she was not aware of the case's details, but said, "I think the person you speak of may be suspected of cutting into cable television cables."

"Anyone who takes such actions," she added, "breaking China's laws and damaging public facilities, will definitely be investigated and punished."

This month, Chinese officials sentenced four Falun Gong members to up to 20 years in jail. The group was convicted of hacking into cable TV systems in the western province of Qinghai to broadcast criticisms of the government's ban on the group.

As law enforcement officials have put Chinese Falun Gong protesters in jail or under surveillance, foreigners have increasingly stepped up to demonstrate and allege official persecution of the sect.

Both sides have dug in for a protracted propaganda battle to sway world opinion.

"With mass media under the tight control of China's leader," the group's Web site said, "Falun Gong practitioners in China have used more creative methods to break through the propaganda campaign against them, such as overriding television broadcasts...."

The group's spiritual practice combines elements of Chinese religions with qigong exercises and the ideas of its U.S.-based founder, Li Hong-zhi. The government banned the group in 1999 after 10,000 followers protested peacefully outside the government leadership compound in a bid for official recognition.

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