Bible Smuggler Back in Hong Kong

HONG KONG (AP) - A Hong Kong businessman convicted of smuggling Bibles into China returned to Hong Kong on Saturday after he was released from a Chinese prison.

A Hong Kong Security Bureau statement said Hong Kong officials have been in touch with Lai Kwong-keung's family after his return. It gave no other details.

Phone calls to Lai's wife in China and his Hong Kong church members went unanswered.

Beijing's official Xinhua News Agency said earlier that Lai would be released from prison but placed under surveillance to receive treatment for hepatitis B.

It said a court in the southeastern Chinese city of Fuqing ruled Saturday that Lai can serve at least part of his two-year sentence outside of prison because of his health, Xinhua said. The agency gave no indications that Lai would be returning to Hong Kong.

Lai was sentenced last month for bringing thousands of Bibles to a banned Chinese Christian group in May.

President Bush, who is to visit China later this month, expressed concern about Lai's case and asked the State Department to look into it.

Lai, 38, was convicted of illegally selling foreign publications inside China. But his arrest came during a crackdown on religious groups operating outside of Beijing's control.

China allows only state-monitored worship and is trying to crush independent groups that it says are a threat to Communist Party rule and public order. Members of the banned Falun Gong meditation group have been jailed for up to 13 years.

Lai, also known as Li Guangqiang, was detained last May after bringing 33,080 Bibles into China for a group known as the Shouters, which has a half million members in southeast China.

Lai was carrying a version of the Bible edited by a founder of the Shouters. That version is not authorized in China, where the Christian group was banned in 1995 as a cult.