LAWYERS ARRIVE ON GUAM TO SUPPORT ZHANG

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By Dionesis Tamondong

HAGÅTÑA, Guam (April 5, 2001 – Pacific Daily News)---High-profile lawyer Robert Shapiro arrived on island yesterday to help a Chinese meditation sect leader gain political asylum.

Zhang Hongbao, founder of the Zhong Gong sect, has been detained at the Department of Corrections since January 2000 after passing through several Asian countries before arriving in Guam with a fake passport.

A hearing on Zhang’s asylum request is scheduled for 9:00 a.m. tomorrow in U.S. District Court.

Shapiro, who helped acquit former football star O.J. Simpson of murder charges in 1995, joined co-counsel Charles Kinnunen and other supporters to meet with Zhang yesterday.

Shapiro described Zhang’s case as one of international significance. "It is a case involving human rights, which I am very sensitive to," Shapiro said, adding that he has been involved with the case for more than three months.

The Chinese government cracked down on Zhang’s group following China’s July 1999 ban on a similar group, Falun Gong.

A federal immigration judge denied Zhang’s asylum request last September.

The Chinese government has accused Zhang, 47, of raping 20 women, but Zhang has said the charges are false and are intended to make it more difficult for him to gain asylum.

Shapiro called the accusations against Zhang "false and fraudulent."

"It is not uncommon for the Chinese government to make such accusations in order get such dissidents back to China so they may be executed," Shapiro said. "Such people are a threat to the Marxist-Communist regime."

Shapiro said Zhang’s case has received support from U.S. Senate majority leader Sen. Trent Lott, R-Miss., and other senators.

 

AT A GLANCE

About Zhang Hongbao

In 1987, Zhang Hongbao founded the Zhong Gong, an outlawed Chinese meditation-exercise sect. About 38 million people who practice the exercises refer to their founder as "master" and themselves as "disciples." Sect followers say the exercises open energy channels in their bodies, promoting health and vitality. They also say Zhang’s teachings promote moral living.

Attorneys are asking U.S. authorities to grant asylum to Zhang, who has been held at the Department of Corrections since January 29, 2000 after he was arrested at the Guam airport by U.S. immigration officials. A hearing for a petition for writ of habeas corpus is scheduled for 9 a.m. April 6 in the U.S. District Court of Guam. Several lawyers are representing Zhang, including Robert Shapiro, who was one of the defense attorneys in the 1995 murder trial of O.J. Simpson.

The Guam Alliance for supporting Zhang was created to lobby U.S. authorities to grant asylum to Zhang, who has said he fled China because he feared for his life. The Chinese government has accused Zhang of raping 20 women and leaving China illegally, but Zhang’s supporters said the accusations are false. Organizers said the alliance has a few hundred members, from Guam, China, Japan and the U.S. mainland.

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