China vows to press Bible-smuggling case

BEIJING - China has warned foreign governments not to meddle in its internal affairs and vowed to press ahead with plans to prosecute a Hong Kong businessman who allegedly carried thousands of Bibles into mainland China for distribution to a banned fundamentalist Christian group.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Sun Yuxi said Tuesday that Li Guangqiang, 38, "broke Chinese laws and will be dealt with according to Chinese laws."

"No other country should interfere in China's judicial independence," Sun said.

His remarks came after reports indicating President Bush had taken a personal interest in Li's case and had asked the State Department to look into the matter.

"The President is deeply concerned about these reports," State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said Monday. "Reports of a crackdown on religious practitioners in China are deeply troubling."

The law under which Li has been charged carries a maximum penalty of death.

Li, a member of the Hong Kong branch of the Anaheim, Calif.-based Local Church, transported more than 30,000 copies of the New Testament Recovery Version of the Bible into China's Fujian province last spring, according to information from the official indictment obtained by the Hong Kong-based Information Center for Human Rights and Democracy.

The human-rights group's director, Frank Lu Siqing, said the Bibles apparently were to be distributed to an underground Protestant sect known as Shouters, which the Chinese government banned in 1995, declaring it a cult.

The Local Church claims about 30,000 members worldwide. Each congregation is named for its location, with the branch Li attended, for example, known simply as the Church in Hong Kong.

A church spokesman in Hong Kong, D.J. Wong, said Tuesday that Li had been a member for only a few months before his arrest.

Li was detained in the city of Fuqing in May along with two mainland Chinese colleagues, Yu Zhudi and Lin Xifu. According to Lu, the human-rights activist, all three men have been held there since.

As often happens in such cases, Li's relatives worked quietly for months seeking his release but decided to publicize his plight after two Local Church members in Hubei province were sentenced to death and a third was given a term of life imprisonment upon conviction of involvement with an "evil cult."

Fourteen other church members received lesser sentences.