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Protester charged with harassing Chinese leader

Journalist Wang could face up to six months in prison



United States

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Federal charges were filed Friday against a heckler who interrupted an otherwise highly scripted ceremony welcoming Chinese President Hu Jintao to the White House the day before, berating him for the persecution of the Chinese religious sect Falun Gong.

Wen Yi Wang, 47, was charged with harassing a foreign official, a federal misdemeanor punishable by six months in prison and a fine of $5,000.

The federal law is designed to protect foreign dignitaries and official guests, and prohibits attempts to "intimidate, threaten, coerce or harass a foreign official or an official guest or obstruct a foreign official in the performance of his duties." (Watch as Wang pleads for help from "all kind people" to help the Falun Gong -- 1:01)

Wang appeared Friday before Magistrate Judge Deborah Robinson in Washington, and a preliminary hearing was set for May 3. She was freed on her own recognizance, but was ordered to stay away from the White House. (View the charge against Wang -- PDF)

After her court appearance, Wang said she had not committed a crime, only an act of "civil disobedience."

Wang, a physician and Falun Gong practitioner, said in a later interview with CNN that she didn't regret her action and that she would do it again if given a chance.

"I just wanted him to know what Falun Gong practitioners think," she said of Hu, adding that though she knew her conduct was prohibited, "saving the people was more important."

Wang is a naturalized U.S. citizen who works as a journalist for the Epoch Times. She had a one-day press pass that gave her access to a photographers' platform at the ceremony.

A probable-cause statement filed in U.S. District Court said Wang "began to yell at President Hu in a loud voice for in excess of two minutes" as he was speaking.

"The defendant was frantically waving a yellow banner in the direction of President Hu, which read 'Falun Dafa is good' and also included writing in Chinese," the documents said. Falun Dafa is another name for Falun Gong.

An interpreter translated Wang's statements to Hu as, "Stop oppressing the Falun Gong," "Your time is running out," and "Anything you have done will come back to you in this lifetime," court documents said. (Watch Wang heckle Hu during a White House ceremony -- 1:33)

Wang then began to yell at President Bush, according to the documents, partly in English and partly in Chinese, saying, "President Bush, stop him from killing. President Bush, stop him from persecuting Falun Gong."

A cameraman standing near Wang pulled the banner from her hands and put his hand over her mouth, and the U.S. Secret Service escorted her from the platform. (Watch as Wang talks about why she disrupted the ceremony and why she'd do it again -- 4:12)

Terri Wu, an assistant to the editor in chief of the Epoch Times, said Thursday that Wang has worked for the newspaper for a few years. Because she has a medical background, she wrote articles on issues like bird flu and organ harvesting, Wu said.

Wu said the newspaper was "not aware" Wang planned to disrupt the ceremony.

"This was unexpected," Wu said.

"We have formally contacted the State Department and the White House press office to extend our apologies," Wu said. "We do not approve of this action, and we did not know about this action beforehand."

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