China formally arrests detained U.S. academic
HONG KONG, China -- China has formally arrested Chinese-born U.S. academic Gao Zhan, having already detained her for 52 days, in a move likely to fuel growing resentment between the two nations.
Gao was arrested on charges of "accepting money from a foreign intelligence agency and of participating in espionage activities in China."
The move comes as China and the U.S. continue their verbal skirmish over the collision between a U.S. spy plane and Chinese fighter jet at the weekend that left 24 U.S. crew members in Chinese custody and a Chinese pilot missing at sea.
Gao's husband said in a statement that the academic, one of four U.S. academics being held by China, was incommunidaco.
"We have not been able to contact her. The U.S. embassy and the Red Cross are not allowed to visit her. We have no idea if she is in good health," he said in a statement.
The Hong Kong-based Information Center for Human Rights and Democracy said Gao's case had been complicated by the heightened Sino-U.S. tension following the collision of the U.S. Navy plane with a Chinese fighter jet.
The Chinese Security Bureau informed Gao's parents in Nanjing on Tuesday that Gao had been formally arrested.
According to the Chinese law a person can be detained for not more than 30 days before a formal arrest. Gao was detained on February 11, or 52 days ago.
Gao, her husband, Xue Donghua, and their five-year-old son Andrew were taken into custody at the airport in Beijing as they prepared to return to their home in the United States, after visiting Nanjing and Xian in China.
The Information Center for Human Rights and Democracy's spokesman Frank Lu told CNN that China suspected Gao's visit was to carry out spying activities.
Xue Donghua and the couple's son were held for 26 days at separate locations. Xue says police interrogated him, with the questioning focused specifically on Taiwan.
On March 8, Xue and their son were released and left China, and since then there has been no word on Gao's whereabouts or condition.
"The Foreign Ministry says Gao is suspected to have involved in activities that may harm China's security . . . but after U.S. President Bush and Secretary of States Powell urged Chinese vice-premier Qi Qichen to release Gao, Chinese Foreign Minister changed to say that Gao is spying," says in Xue's statement to the international media.
Xue urges the Chinese government to release Gao. He also asked for help from the U.S. government.
But Frank Lu says the U.S will take a low-profile approach to the issue. "The release of the 24 U.S. plane crew is on the top priority. I don't think the U.S. would press China too much for the release of Gao."
Frank Lu says it is a general practice that China proceeds with prosecution after issuing a formal arrest to a person. He says a case like Gao's can get a sentence of up to 10 years.
But there are exceptions -- in 1999, Song Yongyi, a historian from Farleigh Dickinson University was detained for more than six months while in China to visit family, attend conferences and to follow up on his research on the Cultural Revolution. He was released as a result of aggressive public campaigns.
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