White House heckler charged

A heckler from the Falun Gong spiritual movement, who disrupted a White House appearance by Hu Jintao, the Chinese president, was charged with harassing, intimidating and threatening a foreign official.

    Wang Wenyi disrupted a press conference at the White House

    The woman, who entered the White House grounds as a reporter, interrupted a formal arrival ceremony between Hu and President George Bush on Thursday and shouted: "Stop oppressing the Falun Gong."

    According to the court documents, the woman, identified by US officials as Wang Wenyi, 47, also yelled at Hu, "Your time is running out" and "Anything you have done will come back to you in this lifetime."

    The embarrassing episode marred the South Lawn event and created a diplomatic stir. Bush had to personally apologise to Hu for the incident.

    US officials said Wang gained entry as a reporter with The Epoch Times, an English-language publication strongly supportive of the meditation movement that is banned in China.

    Act of conscience

    "It is not a crime, but an act of civil disobedience"

    Wang Wenyi, protester

    Outside the courthouse after being charged, Wang said she was a doctor who decided to speak out against Chinese authorities 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 misdemeanour charge carries a penalty of up to six months in jail. The law at issue bars willfully harassing, intimidating, coercing or threatening a foreign official in the performance of his official duties.

    Dozens of Wang's supporters turned out in her support on Friday. Outside the courthouse, they held up signs complaining of mistreatment at the hands of the Chinese government.

    Wang did not say anything during the hearing that lasted about 30 minutes.

    But her court-appointed lawyer, David Bos, challenged the criminal charge on free-speech grounds.

    Free speech argument

    Bush had to personally apologise
    to Hu for the incident 

    "It's making the First Amendment rights of all Americans just evaporate," he said, calling Wang's remarks "relatively innocuous."

    Angela George, from the US attorney's office, said Wang had gone beyond political speech and that the verbal attack was personally directed at Hu.

    George argued that Wang's First Amendment rights did not allow her to violate the law.

    Deborah Robinson, the US Magistrate Judge,  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.

    SOURCE: Reuters


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