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US Citizen Accused of Tapping into Chinese State TV - 2003-03-11

A U.S. citizen is facing trial in China on accusations of tapping into state television broadcasts for the banned Falun Gong spiritual movement.

China's Foreign Ministry spokesman Kong Quan says Charles Lee, or Li Xianqun, was arrested January 24 and is in jail awaiting trial.

Mr. Kong said Mr. Lee is accused of destroying television and radio broadcast equipment. He is now in a detention center in Jiangsu province, where the alleged sabotage took place.

One news report said Mr. Lee is a supporter of the Falun Gong spiritual movement, which China calls an "evil cult" and has banned.

An American Embassy spokesman in Beijing would not comment on Mr. Lee's beliefs, but did say consular officials have visited him, and that he appears to be in good health.

Falun Gong supporters have repeatedly replaced state television broadcasts with programs promoting their spiritual movement.

In one case, eight Falun Gong supporters were sentenced to prison terms of up to 13 years after interrupting cable television broadcasts in eastern China last year.

The Falun Gong practices a blend of exercises and traditional Chinese beliefs. Group members claim it has millions of followers in China and worldwide.

Chinese officials consider the group the most serious threat to Communist Party rule since massive pro-democracy protests in 1989. Beijing outlawed the group in 1999.

Since then, dozens of foreign citizens have been detained in China for holding protests in support of Falun Gong. Almost all of them have been immediately deported, and without being charged with criminal offenses.