Federal authorities announced on Monday that two men were arrested in New York City for their alleged involvement in establishing a secret police station on behalf of the Chinese government. In addition, about 36 officers with China’s national police force were charged with using social media to harass dissidents within the United States.
The Justice Department has been cracking down on Chinese government efforts to locate pro-democracy activists and silence those who are critical of Beijing’s policies. The recent cases are part of a series of prosecutions aimed at disrupting the Chinese government’s efforts in the United States.
One of the cases announced on Monday concerns a local branch of the Chinese Ministry of Public Security that was operating inside an office building in Manhattan’s Chinatown neighborhood. The two men arrested were acting under the direction and control of a Chinese government official and deleted communication with that official from their phones after learning of the FBI’s probe in an apparent effort to obstruct the inquiry.
According to the Justice Department, the secret police station performed some basic services, such as helping Chinese citizens renew their Chinese driver’s licenses. However, it also served a more sinister function, including helping the Chinese government locate a pro-democracy activist of Chinese descent living in California.
The two men arrested were identified as Harry Lu Jianwang, 61, of the Bronx, and Chen Jinping, 59, of Manhattan. Both are U.S. citizens, and neither registered with the Justice Department as agents of a foreign government. A lawyer for Lu declined to comment, and an email seeking comment was left with a lawyer for Chen.
The other case announced on Monday involved 34 officers in the Chinese Ministry of Public Security who were charged with creating and using thousands of fake social media accounts on Twitter and other platforms to harass dissidents abroad. Prosecutors say the officers, all part of a specialized task force that worked out of a police facility in Beijing, also used social media to spread Chinese government propaganda on subjects including racial justice protests in the U.S., Russia’s war against Ukraine, and human rights issues in Hong Kong. All of the defendants remain at large and are believed to be living in China.
In addition, eight Chinese government officials who are currently believed to be living in China were charged with directing an employee of a U.S. telecommunications company to remove Chinese dissidents from the company’s platform. Among the 10 people charged was Jin Xinjiang, also known as Julien Jin, a former China-based Zoom executive. He was initially charged in December 2020, when authorities alleged that he tried to disrupt a series of Zoom meetings in May and June of that year that were meant to commemorate the 1989 Tiananmen Square Massacre.
Justice Department officials have prioritized prosecutions of what is known as “transnational repression,” in which foreign governments work to identify, intimidate, and silence dissidents in the U.S. A signature case concerning China was announced in 2020, when the Justice Department charged more than a half-dozen people with working on behalf of the Chinese government in a pressure campaign aimed at coercing a New Jersey man wanted by Beijing into returning to China to face charges. In January, the Justice Department charged three men in an alleged plot that originated in Iran to kill an Iranian American author and activist who has spoken out against human rights abuses there.
The recent cases show that authoritarian governments are becoming more brazen in their efforts to trample the rights and liberties that are the foundation of democracy, according to David Newman, a top official in the Justice Department’s national security division. Newman said the Justice Department would continue to defend democracy, democratic institutions, and sovereignty against threats from authoritarian governments such as China, Russia, and Iran.
The arrests and charges demonstrate that the Chinese government’s efforts to suppress dissent extend beyond China’s borders. The United States and other countries must remain vigilant in protecting the rights and freedoms of their citizens and preventing foreign interference in their internal affairs.