A member of Hong Kong's leading pro-democracy party has been jailed in Mainland China for allegedly hiring a prostitute. Democratic leaders are rallying to his defense, charging that the man was framed by Beijing.

46-year-old Alex Ho (Wai-to) was arrested Friday during a business trip to Southern China and will reportedly be held for six month's 're-education' in a Chinese prison.

Mr. Ho is a district leader in Hong Kong for the Democratic Party and a candidate for the legislative elections scheduled for September 12.

Democratic Party leaders say the charges are bogus and Beijing is trying to smear their party just weeks before the elections.

The democrats are persistent critics of Beijing, which in April rejected popular calls for an early introduction of universal suffrage in the former British colony. Mr. Ho's wife insists he is innocent.

She says police physically threatened her husband and then forced him to sign a confession after condoms and a woman he did not know were brought into his room.

Party official Fred Li spoke to Mrs. Ho and agrees the case appears politically suspect.

"The timing is so close to the election and Mr. Ho is one of the candidates in my team and that would draw my suspicions that that is something related to the election," he said.

Mr. Li noted that Mr. Ho was immediately imprisoned without trial for a crime typically settled in China by a small fine. He also questioned the fact that a detailed account of the case leaked to the press.

And there are concerns for Mr. Ho's health while he is in Chinese custody. "He has some problem with liver and unfortunately the mainland security did not allow Mrs. Ho to give Mr. Ho the medicine that he needed and that is why it is really a human rights issue now," he said.

Democratic Party officials have asked Hong Kong Security Chief Ambrose Lee to intervene, and Mr. Lee promised that his office would make inquiries across the border.

Whether or not Mr. Ho was framed, the incident has heightened already-tense relations between Beijing and the Democrats.

Experts predict the September elections will be the most hotly contested ever. Pro-democracy forces are hoping to win a majority of the 66-seat legislature.