Exiled leader of Chinese spiritual movement charged in beating

Herald Tribune/May 6, 2003

The exiled leader of an outlawed Chinese spiritual movement has been charged with beating and kidnapping his housekeeper, the Pasadena Star-News reported Monday.

If convicted, Hongbao Zhang, also known as Zhang Hongbao, could face deportation, and that could mean a death sentence in his native country, according to experts on his movement.

"He'd meet with an alarming end," said John Kusumi, head of the Connecticut-based, China Support Network, which supports the Chinese democracy movement.

Kusumi said he was not aware of the current charges.

Zhang, 49, is charged with four felonies, including kidnapping and assault with a deadly weapon, in connection with the alleged March 15 beating of his housekeeper Nan Fang He.

Zhang was arrested the same day as the alleged beating, and booked for kidnapping at Los Angeles County Jail, according to Janet Pope, a spokeswoman for the Pasadena Police Department.

Zhang is free on $100,000 bond and has a preliminary hearing scheduled for May 13.

Los Angeles County district attorney's spokeswoman Sandi Gibbons said Zhang could be deported to China if convicted of a felony.

The 49-year-old housekeeper, also a Chinese immigrant, has filed a civil lawsuit against Zhang.

Zhang was granted asylum in the United States in April 2001, after a lengthy immigration trial. Politicians including then-Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott and Sen. Jesse Helms, R-N.C., were among those who lobbied on his behalf.

Zhang founded the Zhong Gong movement in 1987. Millions practice its exercises, which are similar to the traditional Chinese health practice known as qigong.

Chinese authorities began cracking down on Zhang's group shortly after a ban was imposed in 1999 on a similar and better-known sect, Falun Gong.

The government of the People's Republic of China has regarded Zhang as a potential challenger to its regime, according to Kusumi.

Police said the alleged assault took place at Zhang's gated Pasadena estate in the foothills of the San Gabriel Mountains.

According to the police report, the housekeeper told officers that after bashing her head against a chair, Zhang told her: "If you tell the police, I will kill your whole family. If you tell your daughter, I will have her killed first."

After the incident, Zhang, along with two of his students, locked He in a room, according to the police report. Eventually, the housekeeper escaped, running to the street where she wandered bloody and dazed for hours before flagging down a taxi, the report said.

The housekeeper's lawyer in the civil case, Steve Scandura, said that since his client reported the attack, she has feared for her life.

Scandura filed a restraining order against Zhang on Friday, alleging Zhang had hit He previously after she discovered he had made sexual advances toward her 20-year-old daughter and had refused to allow her daughter near him.

During his immigration process, Zhang's lawyer, Robert L. Shapiro, said his client had been falsely accused by the Chinese government of raping 20 women, forgery and illegal boundary crossing.

"The Chinese government outlawed his group as a cult and trumped up false criminal charges against him," Shapiro said, adding that Zhang would be executed if returned to China.

A woman who answered a phone call from The Associated Press to Zhang's Pasadena home on Monday said Zhang would not be available for several days.

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