New York Times, Jan. 30, 2003
By ELISABETH ROSENTHAL
BEIJING, Jan. 30 — The Chinese authorities have detained an American citizen in connection with efforts by the banned Falun Gong spiritual movement to disrupt Chinese television and radio broadcasts, the United States Embassy said today.
Members of the movement have repeatedly managed to interrupt normal signals of local broadcasting networks in various parts of China, replacing them with pro-Falun Gong material.
Falun Gong supporters in the United States identified the detained person as Charles Lee of Menlo Park, Calif.
While many foreign members of Falun Gong have come to China to protest the government’s treatment of Chinese Falun Gong members, most have simply carried out small acts of civil disobedience like unfurling banners in Tiananmen Square or shouting slogans.
Such members are generally arrested, put on a plane and expelled. But Mr. Lee is accused of a far more serious crime of sabotaging broadcast systems. If convicted, he could spend more than 10 years in prison.
Mr. Lee was detained in the southern city of Guangzhou on Jan. 22, the embassy said. He is being held in the coastal city of Yangzhou — President Jiang Zemin’s hometown — presumably because that is where the crime occurred.
Falun Gong members have spliced into broadcast cables in a number of Chinese cities, sometimes interrupting normal programming for up to an hour. A number of Chinese followers have previously been detained in connection with such acts.
At a news conference today, a spokeswoman for the Foreign Ministry, Zhang Qiyue, defended the detention.
“Anybody who takes actions like these is violating Chinese laws,” she said. “Those who damage China’s public facilities will definitely be investigated and punished.”
Falun Gong, which mixes slow motion exercises with the eclectic philosophy of its Chinese founder, Li Hongzhi, was widely popular on the mainland before the government banned it in 1999 as an “evil cult.” Mr. Li lives in exile in the United States.
Adherents praise its health effects and its promotion of clean living. But the government, nervous about the movement’s tens of millions of followers, considers it a threat to social stability and says that it has harmed thousands of Chinese followers by discouraging them from seeking conventional medical treatment.
Since the ban, China has detained tens of thousands of members who refused to give up the practice, placing them in prisons, re-education camps and psychiatric hospitals. Falun Gong says 1,600 of its members have died in custody.
While the number of mainland followers has decreased under the intense pressure, a small but persistent number of members has continued to stage protests.