Ip says Bible trader arrested in China on his own

Hong Kong security boss Regina Ip Lau Suk-yee on Tuesday rejected calls from local Christians to defend a SAR businessman who faces a possible death sentence for bringing Bibles into the mainland.

''We have no jurisdiction whatsoever because whatever alleged offences he committed, were committed in the mainland,'' Ms Ip said.

Chinese authorities arrested Hong Kong businessman Li Guangqiang last year in the southern province of Fujian for shipping 16,000 Bibles to a Christian group.

Li, 38, was charged with ''using an evil cult to undermine the enforcement of law'', an offence that could carry a death penalty if convicted.

It is the latest in a number of cases against Christians in China, where the leader of an underground Christian church was sentenced to death in December and 15 others to prison terms.

But Hong Kong appears determined to avoid confrontation with Beijing over the businessman and his Bibles.

''I believe worldwide different countries have different concepts of freedom, different legal and judicial systems and different countries should be allowed to get on with running their affairs,'' she said.

She questioned concern and criticism expressed by the United States over Li's case.

''I have wondered about what locus the US administration has for acting... [He] is a Hong Kong resident,'' she said.

US President George W. Bush has expressed his concern over the case and a scheduled visit to the mainland next month could pressure Beijing to come up with quick a solution.

A top American lawmaker also said recently China's indictment of Li was a reminder that human rights abuses remained an obstacle in Sino-US ties.

California congressman Tom Lantos, a longtime critic of China's human rights record, lauded Beijing's support for the US-led war on terror, saying cooperation in intelligence and security had brought the two sides closer.

But he cautioned that human rights abuses - from persecution of Muslims in Xinjiang to the banned Falun Gong spiritual movement and, more recently, the SAR businessman - would hinder a further improvement.