Chinese sect founder emerges from hiding, surfaces in Guam

Canoe News/July 29, 2000

Beijing -- After spending months in hiding, a founder of an outlawed Chinese meditation-exercise sect has resurfaced in Guam, where China is blocking his efforts to get political asylum, a human rights group reported Saturday.

Despite a nationwide manhunt, Zhang Hongbao eluded Chinese police and in February reached Guam, a U.S. territory about 6,000 kilometres west of Hawaii, the Hong Kong-based Information Center for Human Rights and Democracy said.

Zhang founded the Zhong Gong sect in 1987, and millions practised its exercises, which are similar to the traditional Chinese health practice known as qigong, the respected rights centre said.

Authorities began cracking down on Zhang's group shortly after a ban was imposed in July on a similar sect, Falun Gong. China's communist leadership views the groups as a threat to its monopoly on power.

Zhang thought Guam immigration authorities would approve his political asylum status on July 21, but his case was delayed when the Chinese Embassy in the United States requested Zhang's extradition, the centre said.

In a formal letter sent to Guam officials, China said Zhang should be returned because he left the country illegally and is a suspect in a criminal case, the centre said. The letter did not provide further details, it said.

Zhang's case is now being handled by immigration officials in Hawaii, who are expected to make a decision next week, the group said.

Hawaii immigration authorities could not be reached for comment because their office was closed for the weekend. Officials in China were also unavailable.

The rights group said if Zhang is sent back to China, he could face the death sentence.

Falun Gong founder Li Hongzhi has been living in New York and is unable to return to China, where almost daily commentaries in the state-run media call his group an evil, dangerous sect.

Like Falun Gong followers, Zhong Gong members refer to their founder as "master" and themselves as "disciples." They say they use Zhong Gong to open energy channels in their bodies, promoting health and vitality. They also say Zhang's teachings promote moral living.

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