Chinese guru’s hearing begins

Spiritual leader accused of assault

PASADENA — A Chinese spiritual guru who reportedly once had 38 million followers says the criminal charges against him are false and the result of a continuing campaign of persecution by the communist Chinese government.

Hong Bao Zhang, 49, was in Pasadena Superior Court on Wednesday for his preliminary hearing, where he was represented by celebrity attorney Mark Geragos. Zhang founded the Zhong Gong spiritual movement in 1987. By 1990, Zhong Gong was said to be the largest of the Chinese “qi qong‘ organizations spiritual wellness groups that use meditation and breathing exercises to promote holistic health.

Zhang was arrested March 15 at his Pasadena home in connection with the alleged assault and false imprisonment of his housekeeper, Nan Fang He, 49. Zhang is charged with four felonies in the case and officials said he could be sentenced to a maximum of 10 years in state prison, if convicted.

A felony conviction for Zhang could result in his deportation to China, where he’s been accused of many crimes and could face execution, according to dissidents. Zhang is currently free on $100,000 bond.

Nan Fang He worked in Zhang’s Pasadena home from June 2001 until the alleged assault. She testified that Zhang attacked her after becoming angry for what he considered her poor work. After cursing her at length, she said Zhang knocked her to the tile floor in the living room and then dragged her by her hair and clothes into his bedroom. There, she said, he continued to punch her in the face and kick her. When she screamed, Zhang choked her and said: “If you cry any more, I’m going to kill you,’ she testified.

As the beating continued, Zhang grabbed her head and banged it into the wooden leg of a sofa; then, Nan Fang He said the spiritual leader told her he would kill her if she moved, and went out of the room to get something to eat. Zhang returned about 15 minutes later, and Nan Fang He eventually escaped when delivery men arrived, creating a diversion, she said.

Outside the courthouse Wednesday, Zhang said through a Mandarin interpreter that his housekeeper assaulted herself, just three days before he was to establish his China Shadow Government to organize government opposition groups. The group has now been formed, Zhang said.

“In China, I’m not only a spiritual leader of 38 million followers, but also I was considered a potential political leader of the country,’ Zhang said. “So they use every trick to persecute me.’

Zhang said he’s not guilty of crimes against Nan Fang He, and that he has full confidence in the American justice system. Zhang alleges the Chinese government is behind 16 civil lawsuits he also faces.

During the hearing, Judge Judson W. Morris twice admonished Geragos for being argumentative as he cross-examined Nan Fang He. Geragos questioned her claim to police that she was locked in Zhang’s bedroom.

“But you couldn’t have been locked inside that room because there’s no less than four sliding glass doors in that room,’ said Geragos, whose other current clients include superstar Michael Jackson and accused killer Scott Peterson.

“No matter, even if (the room) were entirely unlocked, I dared not move,’ Nan Fang He said.

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