Associated Press, Mar. 11, 2003
BEIJING (AP) – A Chinese court said today it would put an American citizen on trial later this month on charges of disrupting government television and radio broadcasts — accusations apparently related to his ties to the banned Falun Gong spiritual movement.
Charles Li, of Menlo Park, Calif., will be tried March 21 for “sabotaging state broadcasting equipment,” said an official of the Yangzhou Intermediary Court in the eastern province of Jiangsu. U.S.-based Falun Gong organizers have identified him as a follower of their group.
The court official, who gave only her surname, Jiang, provided no other information about the charges or trial.
However, the charges appeared to be related to the hijacking of Chinese cable and satellite television broadcasts by Falun Gong followers to show videos protesting the Chinese government ban on their group.
In statements e-mailed to reporters, the group said Li has denied the charge, which could carry a penalty of up to 15 years in prison.
The American Embassy in Beijing said Li was detained in Guangzhou on Jan. 22 and held on charges of sabotaging broadcasting systems.
Li was transferred to the Yangzhou Municipal Detention Center on Jan. 24, and U.S. consular officers visited him there on Jan. 28 and Feb. 27. The embassy said diplomats found Li apparently healthy and gave him a list of lawyers, though it believes he has not yet hired one.
The embassy had no information about a trial. But Levi Browde, a Falun Gong spokesman in the United States, said Li was told of his court date today and had been given 36 hours to choose a lawyer.
Browde said Falun Gong had no information about the broadcast sabotage charges and called them “kind of strange.”
“They’re treating him as a political prisoner,” Browde said. “He’s an American, and he’s being rushed through a show trial.”
Falun Gong has attracted millions of followers with a mix of traditional Chinese calisthenics and doctrines drawn from Buddhism, Taoism and the ideas of its founder, Li Hongzhi, a former government clerk.
It was banned in China in 1999 as a threat to public safety and communist rule. Since then, thousands of followers have been detained, and scores are reported to have died in police custody from beatings or mistreatment.
Police deny mistreating anyone, though they say some have died from hunger strikes or from refusing medical help.
Western supporters of Falun Gong have repeatedly been arrested in China for demonstrating against the government, but they are usually held briefly and deported.