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Chinese Dissident Avoids Deportation in Alleged Beating

Religious leader is freed after pleading no contest to a misdemeanor. The Pasadena resident could have faced execution in his homeland.

March 01, 2006|Jason Felch | Times Staff Writer

A Chinese dissident facing felony charges that could have led to his deportation pleaded no contest to a misdemeanor and was released Tuesday, a Los Angeles County official said.

Zhang Hongbao, the leader of a Chinese spiritual group with an estimated following of 30 million, had been accused of five felony counts related to the alleged beating of his housekeeper in his Pasadena home in 2003.

In pleading to the misdemeanor battery charge, Zhang avoided any threat of deportation, said his attorney, Mark Geragos, who added that his client believes the charges were motivated by money and Chinese politics.

"He was ecstatic," Geragos said. "He couldn't have been more pleased with the result and the fact that a second judge in a row has found that the testimony was wholly unbelievable."

Zhang agreed to pay a $1,000 fine and received credit for spending one day in County Jail, said Sandi Gibbons, a spokeswoman for the Los Angeles County district attorney's office. He is bound for 10 years by a court order to stay away from the victim, her family and her attorney in a parallel civil suit, which is seeking $97,000 in damages.

"Based on the evidence we had that developed after the case was filed, we felt this was an appropriate outcome," Gibbons said.

The housekeeper, Nan Fang He, a Chinese immigrant in her early 50s, could not be reached for comment.

Zhang fled China in the 1990s, when the government began to crack down on Zong Gong, a practice similar to Falun Gong that promotes healing through breathing exercises. The government saw the movement as a threat to its authoritarian rule.

He entered the U.S. illegally through Guam in 2000 and was detained for 13 months before being granted asylum by the Bush administration. His case was aided by the intervention of Republican Sens. Jesse Helms of North Carolina and Trent Lott of Mississippi, experts said.

Zhang has since lived quietly in Pasadena. When the charges were filed against him in 2003, a Los Angeles Superior Court judge said Zhang's political situation made the charges equivalent to a capital case. His deportation could have resulted in his execution in China, where he faces charges including rape, murder and terrorism.

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