A Chinese journalist who was in St. Petersburg to report for The Epoch Times, a U.S.-based newspaper, on the Shanghai Summit between President Vladimir Putin and leaders from China and the former Soviet Central Asian Republics was arrested on Friday for handing out leaflets in support of the Falun Gong movement in front of the Astoria Hotel, the Agency for Investigative Journalism reported on Monday.
Veni Vang was charged with petty hooliganism. She was found guilty the same day in the Admiralteisky District Federal Court, which sentenced her to five days in prison.
"If she was sent to China she would have been tortured and killed there," Bobbi Bani, a member of the Falun Gong movement from the United States and one of the 200 members of the movement who visited the city for the summit, said on Monday. "I'm not a politician. This was just a case of staging a peaceful appeal to let people know what we practice."
According to a friend of the journalist, who asked not to be identified, Vang was detained after handing the leaflets in the area close to Astoria hotel, where Chinese Prime Minister Jiang Zemin was staying at that time. He said Vang was detained while trying to check into the Angleterre Hotel and taken to a police station at 6 Zakharyevskaya Ulitsa.
"This was not linked to her journalistic activity," her friend said.
While the charge was laid under Russian law and by Russian police, members of the group said that they believe the arrest was made at the behest of the staff of the visiting Chinese Prime Minister.
"The real motive for her detention was the fact that, in July of last year, during Jiang Zemin's visit to Malta, Vang openly criticized the policy of repression and killings of Falun Gong members in China. This time she was recognized by one of guards of the Chinese prime minister," a press release issued by Falun Gong members on Monday said.
"We can only assume that there was pressure on the Russian police from the Chinese authorities to 'temporarily isolate' a troublesome journalist," the release said.
The Chinese consulate could not be reached for a comment on Monday.
State Duma lawmaker Yuly Rybakov and representatives of the human-rights group Memorial, sent an information letter to Oleg Mironov, Russia's human-rights supervisor, saying that Vang had participated in a press conference dealing with the treatment of the Falun Gong in China, held in St. Petersburg on June 4.
"The press conference was about the persecution of Falun Gong members in China since 1999, of the repression, torture and killings that branded tens of millions of people as outlaws, depriving them of basic human rights and freedoms," the letter said.
The letter also said that district administrations within the city have refused to allow the Falun Gong members to hold demonstrations in the city.
"They have always been refused the right to hold meetings. Russia has an agreement with China that the states would not support movements which are targeting power in the other's country," said Yury Vdovin, co-chairperson of the local human-rights group Citizens' Watch, in a telephone interview on Monday. "But I don't think this really qualifies as such a movement."