China Sentences Zhong Gong Leader

The Associated Press/September 10, 2001

Beijing -- A Chinese court has sentenced a leader of the banned Zhong Gong meditation sect to seven years in prison for tax evasion, court officials said Monday.

Company manager Zhou Xinyang, 46, was detained in October 1999 after the government banned the Zhong Gong sect amid a broader crackdown on another spiritual movement, Falun Gong. He was originally charged with trying to subvert the government, the Information Center for Human Rights and Democracy said.

The Hong Kong-based group said authorities later changed the charge to tax evasion and that a court in the southern city of Changsha convicted Zhou on Aug. 30.

A judge at the court who gave only his surname, Li, confirmed Zhou's conviction and sentence. The Changsha Taiweihe Trading Co., which Zhou managed, owed $122,000 in taxes, Li said.

Another court official, who refused to give his name, confirmed that Zhou had originally been held on subversion charges and said his prior affiliation with Zhong Gong might have influenced his sentence.

Zhong Gong attracted millions of members in the 1990s with its mix of Chinese philosophy and traditional health practices.

After Beijing banned it, thousands of Zhong Gong schools and businesses were confiscated. Founder Zhang Hongbao escaped arrest by fleeing to the United States.

Around 100 Zhong Gong businesses were closed in Hunan province, where Changsha is located, the Information Center said.

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