Qigong master given 12 years in tax case

A QIGONG master was sentenced to 12 years' jail in Jiangsu province yesterday, more than a year after his arrest, according to court officials and a rights group.
Shen Chang, the founder of ``Human Body Science'' - a traditional breathing and meditation group - was sentenced after being found guilty on charges of ``evading tax and illegal business practices'', a court official told the Hong Kong iMail.
The court, which started the hearing on July 27, originally had planned to charge Shen, 44, with membership in an ``evil cult'' but dropped the attempt for fear of a political backlash at home and abroad, the Hong Kong-based Information Centre for Human Rights and Democracy in China said yesterday.
A 50-member special team that investigated Shen's case for almost a year concluded that he was as dangerous as Li Hongzhi, founder of the outlawed Falun Gong, because there were ``many anti-scientific ingredients'' in his teachings, the rights centre said.
The trial was an ``open'' one, with Shen hiring two lawyers to defend him, the official, who attended the sentencing, said.
It was not known whether Shen would appeal.
Frank Lu Siqing, head of the rights centre, said he believed Shen would appeal.
``Obviously it is a case of political persecution aimed at disintegrating qigong groups on the mainland,'' Mr Lu said.
Founded in 1990, Shen's qigong group claimed to have five million followers, mainly in the east coast provinces of Jiangsu and Zhejiang.
According to the rights centre, the ``illegal business practices'' that Shen was accused of stemmed from the 1995 publication of 30,000 videotapes, with a turnover of 6.3 million yuan (HK$5.94 million).
The videotapes claimed to demonstrate his teachings on breathing and meditation exercises as well as to heal some diseases.
The ``tax-evasion'' charge stemmed from the 1.54 million yuan that Shen pocketed after giving qigong lectures between 1991 and 1993.
The authorities said Shen's tax evasion amounted to 900,000 yuan.
But the rights centre said Shen had resolved outstanding tax and business issues with civil authorities in 1996.
Shen was arrested in the lead-up to the first anniversary of the crackdown on the Falun Gong.
According to the rights centre, the real reason behind Shen's arrest was that the government feared he might flee overseas and become another Li Hongzhi.
Mr Li fled to the United States months before Beijing outlawed his sect in July 1999 after it staged a mass protest in the capital.