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China Detains American Falun Gong Member


China detains an American member of the banned Falun Gong sect for interfering with television broadcasts. Also, an Australian member of the group will be released Thursday after a weeklong detention in China.

A U.S. embassy spokeswoman said Thursday that Chinese police detained Chuck Lee, an American citizen, on charges of sabotaging television and radio broadcast systems in China.

The embassy spokeswoman in Beijing said police in the southern city of Guangzhou took Mr. Lee into custody on January 22 and several days later transferred him to a detention center west of Shanghai.

She said a U.S. consulate official visited Mr. Lee on Tuesday, and he appeared healthy.

Falun Gong supporters say Mr. Lee is a member of their group, which has been banned in China since 1999 as an "evil cult." Over the past two years, Chinese followers of the group have occasionally taken over state television signals to protest the ban and broadcast their spiritual beliefs.

At a news conference in Beijing Thursday, Chinese Foreign Ministry Spokeswoman Zhang Qiyue said Mr. Lee is suspected of cutting cable television wires, damaging public facilities, and disrupting the lives of Chinese citizens.

She warns that anyone who breaks Chinese law and damages infrastructure will be investigated.

Falun Gong spokeswoman Sophie Xiao in Hong Kong expresses dismay over Mr. Lee's detention. Ms. Xiao said the charges against Mr. Lee could carry a penalty of 15 years in prison.

"We really feel shocked because this persecution is not only being applied to Chinese citizens," she said. "Now the persecution against the Falun Gong has extended to foreign nationals."

In fact, police in the southwestern city of Chengdu last week detained an Australian member of Falun Gong, Ms. Xiao said.

The Australian embassy spokesperson in Beijing says Thursday it sent an official to meet the woman, Nancy Chen, and that they expect her release on Thursday.