China heckler at White House charged in court
Fri Apr 21, 2006 09:21 PM ET
By Peter Kaplan
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A heckler from the Falun Gong spiritual movement who disrupted a White House appearance by Chinese President Hu Jintao was charged on Friday with harassing, intimidating and threatening a foreign official.
The federal misdemeanor charges against Wang Wenyi -- a 47-year-old who said she had carried out an individual act of conscience -- are punishable by up to six months in jail.
Wang entered the White House grounds as a reporter before interrupting the highly scripted welcome ceremony for Hu hosted by President George W. Bush on Thursday.
"President Hu, your days are numbered. President Bush, make him stop persecuting Falun Gong," she yelled, referring to the spiritual meditation movement that is banned in China.
Bush personally apologized to Hu for the incident, said by officials to have been deeply resented by the Chinese authorities.
Outside the courthouse after being charged, Wang said she was a physician who had decided to speak out as "an individual act of conscience."
"It is not a crime, but an act of civil disobedience," she said, reading from a prepared statement.
The law at issue bars willfully harassing, intimidating, coercing or threatening a foreign official in the performance of their official duties.
U.S. officials said Wang entered the White House grounds as a reporter with The Epoch Times, an English-language publication strongly supportive of the meditation movement that is banned in China.
Wang, in an interview on the CNN program "The Situation Room," said she had lived in the United States for nearly 20 years and was awaiting a naturalization ceremony to become a U.S. citizen.
She said she realized the charges might hurt her naturalization prospects but said it was worthwhile to call attention to what she called "unspeakable" human-rights abuses in China.
She said the news organization she had represented did not know that she would disrupt the event.
Wang did not speak during the court hearing, which lasted
about 30 minutes. But her court-appointed lawyer, David Bos, challenged the criminal charge on free-speech grounds.
"It's making the First Amendment rights of all Americans just evaporate," he said, calling Wang's remarks "relatively innocuous."
Angela George, from the U.S. attorney's office, said Wang had gone beyond political speech and that the verbal attack was personally directed at Hu.
U.S. Magistrate Judge Deborah Robinson did not rule on the free-speech issue. She refused to dismiss the criminal complaint against Wang, saying it was too soon to make a decision about throwing out the case.
Robinson released Wang without bail, but ordered her to stay away from the White House.
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