WASHINGTON – President Bush has asked the State Department to look into reports that the Chinese government has jailed a Hong Kong man for bringing Bibles to Christians in China.
The president is "deeply concerned" about the report, said State Department spokesman Richard Boucher, who added that diplomats in Beijing and Washington brought the issue to Bush's attention after the man's family notified the security bureau of his status.
The State Department has registered its concerns with the Chinese Embassy in Washington as well as with Chinese authorities in Beijing, Boucher said.
Li Guangqiang, 38, has been charged with "using a cult to undermine enforcement of the law," referring to the Hong Kong man's effort to supply tens of thousands of Bibles to an underground Christian movement in mainland China.
He is accused of taking 33,080 copies of the New Testament to the Shouters Sect, banned seven years ago as an "aberrant religious organization," in two trips in April and May 2001.
Two members of the Shouters Sect, who made the initial request for the Bibles, were also indicted by the government, which could sentence the three to death if they are convicted.
This is the second time in a week that the Chinese government jailed individuals on such charges – last week two members of an underground Protestant church were sentenced to death. In December, the leader of a banned Christian group, South China Church, was sentenced to death on charges he led a cult.
According to human rights group Amnesty International, the Communist government has banned at least 16 Christian organizations in the country. They and other religious groups outside of the state-sanctioned, non-denominational church are typically banned and driven underground by the government, which was recently honored with permanent normal trade relations status by the U.S. last week.
A White House spokesman refused to speculate on the outcome of the inquiry, but said the president has privately brought up his concerns for religious freedom in China to Chinese President Jiang Zemin. The issue is also raised at various diplomatic levels whenever appropriate, the spokesman said.
Fox News' Teri Schultz and Patty Chung and the Associated Press contributed to this report.