China warns other countries: Stay out of Bible-import case

BEIJING - China warned foreign governments yesterday not to meddle in its internal affairs as it 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 the 38-year-old businessman, Li Guangqiang, "broke Chinese laws and will be dealt with according to Chinese laws."

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

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

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

The controversy opens a new chapter in the long and difficult relationship between evangelical Christian groups and Communist Chinese authorities deeply suspicious of their motives.

Some China-watchers view Li's detention as part of a broader crackdown in advance of next fall's 16th Communist Party Congress, when the successor to President Jiang Zemin and a new generation of Chinese leaders will be selected.

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 organization's director, Frank Lu Siqing, said the Bibles apparently were headed for distribution to an underground Protestant sect known as Shouters, which China banned in 1995, declaring it a cult. The sect gets its name from the practice of loudly professing their devotion to Christ.

Li was detained in the city of Fuqing in May along with two mainland Chinese colleagues, Yu Zhudi and Lin Xifu. All three men have been held there since.

As often happens in such instances, 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 after being convicted of involvement with an "evil cult."

An estimated 10 million Christians worship openly in China, and some versions of the Bible are legal. But other Christian sects and some Bibles are outlawed.