Maid Testifies Against Zhong Gong Leader in Calif.

Reuters/December 10, 2003
By Howard Breuer

Pasadena, Calif. -- The former housekeeper for the exiled founder of China's Zhong Gong spiritual sect testified during a preliminary hearing on Wednesday that her boss kicked and beat her and slammed her head against a sofa.

But outside court, a lawyer for 49-year-old Hong Bao Zhang attacked the woman's credibility, calling her a former mental patient who had filed more than a dozen lawsuits against Zhang in an apparent bid to get money from him.

The hearing in the Los Angeles suburb of Pasadena, which began on Tuesday, will determine if Zhang should stand trial on charges of assault with a deadly weapon and kidnapping. A guilty verdict could send him to prison for 10 years.

It could also result in Zhang's eventual deportation to China to face an uncertain future, lawyers said. Zhang, who is currently free on $100,000 bond, has been living in the United States since April 2001, after Chinese dissidents and U.S. political leaders rallied to support him.

Nan Fang He testified that her boss assaulted her on March 15 after cursing at her and accusing her of mismanaging workers doing construction on his house.

"He hit me on the head like this and struck me with his leg and I fell down," Nan Fang He said as she mimed a punch to the right side of her head. "When he started hitting me, I started crying and screaming constantly."

According to a lawsuit she filed earlier this year, Zhang beat the He several times over more than two years, and repeatedly threatened to kill her if she complained.

"You will stay with me just like a dog," Zhang allegedly warned He, according to the lawsuit, which claims that Zhang threatened He during the beating, saying, "If you tell police, I will kill your whole family. If you tell your daughter, I will have her killed first."

The lawsuit says that after He fled from the house, "she ran for miles in the rain, hiding for hours in a mini mall, then flagged down a taxi driver" who contacted police.

But outside court Zhang's attorney, Mark Geragos, suggested that He was motivated by money.

"(She) first called her lawyer, then called her insurance agent. Before my client could be arraigned, she had already filed a lawsuit against him," said Geragos, a high-profile Los Angeles lawyer who is also defending pop star Michael Jackson against allegations of child molestation.

Zhong Gong, founded by Zhang in the late 1980s, has had as many as 38 million followers.

The sect is a variation of the "qi gong" movement whose followers attempt to tap cosmic energies through deep breathing and slow, repetitive movements to improve well-being.

The Chinese government, however, has banned the movement as "an evil cult" accused of "using feudal superstition to deceive the masses."

If convicted of a felony, Zhang could be deported to China, where he could be persecuted for his public criticisms of the Chinese government, his lawyer said.

Beijing has also accused Zhang of raping several of his followers, a charge his group has dismissed as a fabrication.

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