Zhang Hongbao in Blast Furnace

A Documentary on How the Outstanding Spiritual Leader

Transformed to a Political Leader


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FREE ZHANG HONGBAO
by Timothy Cooper
 

At the far end of a dusty hilltop road that runs along the twisted spine of the tropical island of Guam just north of the capital city of Nagatna, lies the Mangilao Department of Corrections facility and looking about as bleak as the House of the Seven Gables, even in the early morning South Pacific sunshine. And within its shiny forest green cinder block walls languishes Zhang Hongbao, leader and founder of Zhong Gong, a qigong group, similar in nature to the Falun Gong, which has an estimated following of some 40 million people. The question is: Why is Zhang Hongbao in prison?

Founded in 1987, Zhong Gong literally translates as "China Health Care and Wisdom Enhancement Practice." Like the Falun Gong, its practitioners are experiencing a winter of oppression under the wrath of China's increasingly frail president, Jiang Zemin. Indeed, it has escalated into a rain of repression every bit as terrifying and as ruthless as the midnight pogroms waged against innocent Jews in Nazi Germany.

Just last month, for instance, four Zhong Gong practitioners from Jiangsu province were convicted of the crime of "attempting to overthrow state political power". Each one was summarily sentenced to up to four years in prison. More than 600 other members of the outlawed meditation group have been detained since last October, and over 3,000 Zhong Gong-owned businesses have been shut down and their assets confiscated.

Without question, Zhong Gong has become a major target in President Jiang's personal vendetta against spiritual groups he perceives as posing a serious threat to his white-knuckled hold on his troubled government. As the world well knows, it is already reeling under the intense pressure caused by millions of unemployed workers, new demands by pro-unionist labor activists, continued demonstrations by malcontent farmers, historical cross strait tensions with Taiwan, escalating activism on the part of Tibetans and Uyghurs from East Turkestan, to say nothing of the perennial pressure exerted by pro-democracy dissidents inside and outside China. Add to this the raw explosive power of the Internet, leaking information from the West like a sieve, and it goes without saying that President Jiang has his hands full.

In the case of Zhong Gong, Mr. Jiang may indeed have much to fear. Unlike the Falun Gong, which espouses no particular political philosophy, Zhang Hongbao is an avowed democrat. He has publicly repudiated Marxist theories, castigating them as little more than tragic self-contradictions best consigned to the ash heap of history.

Due to his anti-Marxist writings and the rapid expansion of his group in the early 1990s to nearly 40 million followers, Mr. Zhang was forced to flee China abroad after Beijing's mayor, and so-called "butcher" of Tiananmen Square, Chen Xitong, launched a crackdown against the group. Thereafter, he spent six years on the run. It was common knowledge that he would be executed if he ever set foot back on Chinese soil. Meanwhile his organization and influence continued to spread into every province of China, which, of course, alarmed the Chinese authorities even more.

Then in January last year, Mr. Zhang traveled to Guam on a false passport seeking political asylum, and was immediately arrested. Ever since, he has been detained at the Mangilao federal detention facility. Under normal circumstances, a grant of political asylum by the INS should have been routine, especially in light of the State Department's annual human rights report which chronicled China's merciless persecution of Zhong Gong practitioners. Yet, Mr. Zhang's immigration case has been anything but routine.

And while a fellow Zhong Gong practitioner, who was detained along with Mr. Zhang, was granted political asylum in July, he was not. According to Guam lawyer, Charles Kinnunen, Mr. Zhang was on the verge of being granted asylum waiting only fingerprint clearance from the FBI-- when the Chinese embassy in Washington, D.C. forwarded a letter to the immigration court claiming, among other things, that Mr. Zhang was wanted for rape in China.

Though the charges against Mr. Zhang, dating back to 1990, had never previously been pursued by authorities in China, the government provided the US court with the letter without any other contemporaneous information that could be independently verified, Judge Dana Dias continued the case until early August at the request of the District Counsel, which was prosecuting the case.

(It should be noted that Chinese government accusations of rape and sexual misconduct have become standard operating procedure, oftentimes hurtled against pro-democracy dissidents and other perceived state subversives in an effort to slander them, as well as give non-controversial grounds for incarceration. Even Pope John Paul II's Chinese sainthood nominees were painted with this same grotesque brush.)

Thereafter, one delay after another ensued, initiated at every turn by the INS Special Council office in Guam. Trying even the court's patience, the INS prosecutors requested three continuances in August alone. Then, on September 21st, only seven days after the US Senate voted in favor of Permanent Normal Trade Relations for China, Mr. Zhang was granted "withholding of removal" and protection under the convention against torture. Though he would not be deported to China, he would not be granted political asylum either. Yet interestingly, the immigration judge gave no credence to the rape charges.

Immediately after her decision, a spokesman for the Chinese Foreign Ministry, Sun Yuxi, issued a strongly worded statement criticizing the court's decision, and expressing its "discontent and opposition" to it. Moreover, it demanded that the US "correct its mistakes and repatriate Zhang Hongbao as soon as possible".

Four months later, he still sits in a Guam jail cell.

And though Mr. Zhang had been granted so-called "protection", the INS District Counsel has strongly opposed his motion for bond. Release on bond is usually within the discretion of the local INS office, but David Johnson, who heads up the office, claims that "higher ups" are weighing in against it. And in a bizarre twist to the story, the INS once claimed that Mr. Zhang was being kept imprisoned in order to protect his life against rumored assassination attempts by roving communist agents. As recently as last week, the Hawaii regional INS office was tight-lipped, curtly stating that it would have "no comment" on the case. In late December, a writ of habeas corpus was filed on Mr. Zhang's behalf.

Buried at the bottom of this case lies the scent of fear, fear on the part of the White House about offending a nervous Chinese government, fear on the part of Beijing for what Mr. Zhang's freedom might mean for the acceleration of the pro-democracy movement in China. Beijing's fear is understandable. Mr. Zhang can single-handedly bring some 40 million followers into the pro-democracy camp. But what does America have to fear? Only fear itself.

America should free Zhang Hongbao today.

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The writer is the ambassador-at-large for the China Democracy Party and the international director of the Free China Movement. He visited with Zhang Hongbao in Guam in late December.

 

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