Wenyi Wang acted rudely when she yelled and waved a banner at visiting Chinese President Hu Jintao during his White House appearance Thursday. The Secret Service was right to hustle her off the grounds. President Bush was right to apologize. But does Ms. Wang deserve to go to prison for six months? That might be the response to embarrassing and rude speech in Beijing. It shouldn’t be in Washington. But yesterday the U.S. government charged Ms. Wang under a law that could bring her that sentence.
Ms. Wang, a member of the Falun Gong sect, which China suppresses, got into the media section at the White House lawn ceremony with credentials from a newspaper run by the spiritual group. According to court documents, she waved a yellow banner and shouted in Chinese: “Stop oppressing the Falun Gong,” “Your time is running out,” and “Anything you have done will come back to you in this lifetime.” She also yelled to Mr. Bush, “Stop him from persecuting Falun Gong!”
For that, Ms. Wang has been charged under a law that makes anyone who “intimidates, coerces, threatens, or harasses a foreign official or an official guest or obstructs a foreign official in the performance of his duties” face up to six months in jail. Such laws are necessary to protect visiting dignitaries from attacks — and to ensure reciprocal protections for U.S. officials abroad.
But no one alleges that Mr. Hu was ever in danger of anything more serious than irritation or humiliation. According to the court documents, the yelling caused Mr. Hu “to interrupt his speech” and look toward Ms. Wang. There’s no question that it also caused Mr. Bush to be embarrassed about a lapse of protocol for a visitor acutely sensitive to diplomatic niceties. Okay, but the United States shouldn’t indirectly apologize to the Chinese by means of an action that affronts American values.
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