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US Welcomes Chinese Release of Alleged Bible Smuggler


The U.S. Government is welcoming Saturday's release of a man jailed for smuggling Bibles into China.

A Chinese court released Lai Kwong-keung on medical grounds, and sent him to Hong Kong. Mr. Lai suffers from hepatitis.

The 38-year old Hong Kong businessman was convicted of improperly bringing thousands of Bibles into China. He was fined $18,000 and had just begun serving a two-year prison sentence. The court said Mr. Lai could serve part of his sentence out of jail "under surveillance" in Hong Kong, but Hong Kong officials say they have no intention of bothering him.

President Bush expressed concern about the case and had asked the U.S. State Department to look into the matter. A U.S. Embassy statement said Washington has been working for Mr. Lai's release and welcomes Beijing's action.

The release comes just weeks before a visit to Beijing by President Bush for talks that are expected to include discussions of China's human rights practices.

China allows only state-approved worship and tries to crush independent religious and political groups it considers threats to public order or communist party rule.

Lai Kwong-keung was detained last May after bringing thousands of Bibles into China for an un-authorized Christian group called the "Shouters." Mr. Lai was carrying a version of the Bible edited by the founder of the Shouters, a version that is not authorized under Chinese law. The Shouters have been banned for some time and are thought to have many thousands of members in southern China. Two mainland Chinese citizens were convicted with Mr. Lai and are still serving three-year prison terms.