The US ambassador to China has added weight to the pressure for the release of a Hong Kong man facing execution for smuggling Bibles into the mainland by warning of the impact the case is having on Beijing's image. His comments yesterday came as the wife of businessman Lai Kwong-keung said she had lost contact with her husband after he was taken to an unknown location in Fuzhou, Fujian province, last week. US Ambassador Clark Randt mentioned Lai's case as he raised the issue of religious freedom on the mainland in a speech in Hong Kong yesterday. Lai, 38, was arrested with mainlanders Yu Zhudi and Lin Xifu while allegedly transporting 16,280 Bibles to an underground Christian group called the 'Shouters' in Fuqing, Fujian, on May 31. He was also accused of transporting a further 16,800 Bibles to Fuqing on April 1. The three, who are facing the death penalty, were charged last month with 'using a cult to undermine enforcement of the law'. Mr Randt said US President George W. Bush had made clear the importance of his religious faith and human rights when he was in Shanghai in October. Mr Bush, who will make his first state visit to Beijing next month, had also voiced 'deep concern' about Lai's case and called on the mainland to abide by international norms of religious freedom. 'The President has expressed his grave personal concern over the case of Hong Kong businessman Lai Kwong-keung, who sits in jail awaiting trial, apparently for importing Bibles,' Mr Randt said. 'The importance of the Bible to Christians and the negative impact of such a story on the image of China in the United States cannot be overestimated.' Mr Randt said the issue was particularly sad as more Bibles were being printed in China with the permission of Beijing than almost anywhere in the world. While Mr Randt said the Bush administration was pleased about the release of Tibetan scholar Ngawang Choephel, who had been jailed for alleged espionage and splittist activities, he also cited four other human rights abuse cases on the mainland. 'I earnestly hope that before the President visits Beijing in late February, I shall be able to report additional releases by China on humanitarian and medical grounds, to include those persons whom I have mentioned today,' he said. 'A China that is open to all forms of religious thought will be a greater and more respected nation.' Lai's trial has been delayed amid the US pressure, with the Fuqing court sending his case back earlier this month to the prosecution office in Fuzhou, which is larger than Fuqing. Lai had previously been detained in Fuqing, but his wife said she had lost track of him after he was moved. 'I was told last Friday by the detention centre that he was transferred to Fuzhou last Thursday. But I don't know where he is now,' she said. 'I'm very worried as his health is not good and I need to send him money to buy medicine in the detention centre. It's cold and I want to send him some blankets.' She said she hoped US pressure could help secure his release.