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China Says Man Distributed 'Cult Propaganda'

China says a Hong Kong businessman arrested after he shipped Bibles into the country actually was distributing banned cult publications. The comments follow President Bush's expression of concern about the case.

China says Hong Kong resident Li Guangqiang was arrested because he used Bibles as a pretext for distributing a large volume of what it calls cult propaganda.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Sun Yuxi says that on May 31 last year, Mr. Li collaborated with cult members in the mainland to ship 16,000 publications from Hong Kong to Fuqing, in Fujian province.

Mr. Sun told reporters in Beijing that police in Fujian arrested Mr. Li July 5, after he tried to sell the banned material. He said that Mr. Li violated Chinese law, and a local court is now handling his case.

President Bush has expressed concern about the case Monday. A State Department spokesman said U.S. officials in Beijing have raised Mr. Li's case with China's Foreign Ministry.

The State Department has also voiced its concern with the Chinese Embassy in Washington. The spokesman said Washington has called for China to meet international standards on the freedom of religious expression.

Without naming the United States, Mr. Sun is warning other countries not to interfere with what he calls the independence of China's judicial system. He says Mr. Li's case will be handled according to Chinese law.

China adopted its anti-cult law in 1999 to support its crackdown on the Falun Gong spiritual movement.

The Information Center for Human Rights and Democracy, a Hong Kong-based rights group, says that according to the cult law, Mr. Li could face the death penalty. The group says Mr. Li shipped thousands of Bibles to an underground Christian organization in China called The Shouters, named for its members' style of shouting out prayers during worship.

Beijing bans unauthorized religious worship, which it sees as a threat to its hold on power.