Associated Press, July 22, 2003
PASADENA, Calif. (AP) – The exiled leader of an outlawed Chinese spiritual movement appeared in court Tuesday for the scheduling of a preliminary hearing date in his kidnapping and assault case.
Court spokesman Kyle Christopherson said Superior Court Judge Terry Smerling scheduled an Aug. 19 hearing for Hongbao Zhang.
Zhang, 49, is charged with four felonies, including kidnapping and assault with a deadly weapon, in connection with the alleged March 15 beating of his housekeeper, Nan Fang He.
The housekeeper told police Zhang, also known as Zhang Hongbao, attacked her during a dispute over a renovation project at his Pasadena home and held her against her will in a bedroom.
If convicted, he could face deportation to China, which those who follow his movement say could lead to his execution there. He is wanted in China on charges of murder and rape.
Zhang founded the Zhong Gong movement in 1987. Millions practice its exercises, which are similar to the traditional Chinese health practice known as qigong and are said to promote spiritual and physical well being.
The Chinese government began cracking down in the 1990s on groups practicing the exercises, denouncing them as cults.
Zhang has denied beating his housekeeper, saying the allegations are part of a Chinese conspiracy.
He was granted asylum in the United States in 2001 after a lengthy immigration trial. Politicians including then-Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott of Mississippi and Sen. Jesse Helms, R-N.C., were among those who lobbied on his behalf.
His lawyer argued then that the Chinese government had framed him.