U.S. Presses Charges against Chinese Agents
U.S. officials have unveiled two criminal complaints against 44 individuals, alleging they committed offenses related to China's efforts to harass Chinese nationals in the New York metropolitan region and elsewhere in the United States. Two people were arrested for running a Chinese police station in Lower Manhattan.
Among the defendants are 40 officers from the Chinese Ministry of Public Security (MPS) and two officials from China's Cyberspace Administration (CAC). These individuals allegedly operated transnational repression schemes against U.S. residents whose political views and actions are disliked by the Chinese government.
The U.S. Department of Justice said that these U.S. residents were advocating for democracy in the People's Republic of China (PRC).
The suspects are accused of establishing and exploiting fake accounts on social media to harass and threaten PRC dissidents living overseas. They also allegedly stifled the dissidents' free expression on the platform of a U.S. telecom company.
In one scheme, the Chinese government allegedly deployed national police and an elite task force known as the "912 Special Project Working Group" to serve as a troll farm that attacks people in the U.S. "for exercising free speech in a manner that the PRC government finds disagreeable, and also spreads propaganda whose sole purpose is to sow divisions within the U.S.," according to US Attorney Breon Peace for the Eastern District of New York.
The Group members allegedly constructed thousands of bogus online profiles on social media platforms such as Twitter to harass and threaten Chinese dissidents. They also utilized the same channels to distribute official PRC government propaganda and narratives in response to Chinese dissidents' pro-democracy speeches.
In relation to the first scheme, the two-count complaint "charges 34 MPS officers with conspiracy to transmit interstate threats and conspiracy to commit interstate harassment," according to the Department of Justice.
The amended complaint in relation to the second scheme charged ten people "with conspiracy to commit interstate harassment and unlawful conspiracy to transfer means of identification."
Assistant Attorney General Matthew G. Olsen of the Justice Department's National Security Division said that "these cases demonstrate the lengths the PRC government will go to silence and harass U.S. persons who exercise their fundamental rights to speak out against PRC oppression, including by unlawfully exploiting a U.S.-based technology company."
However, those accused in both schemes remain at large and are believed to be in the PRC and one in Indonesia, according to the DOJ.
In a separate case, police in New York arrested "Harry" Lu Jianwang of the Bronx and Chen Jinping of Manhattan after a complaint against them was unsealed Tuesday in federal court in Brooklyn.
The DOJ said in a statement that the two were charged with "opening and operating an illegal overseas police station, located in lower Manhattan, New York, for a provincial branch of the MPS of the People's Republic of China."
According to the complaint, Lu and Chen are accused of planning to operate as PRC government agents as well as obstructing justice by deleting evidence of their interactions with an MPS officer.
"The PRC, through its repressive security apparatus, established a secret physical presence in New York City to monitor and intimidate dissidents and those critical of its government," said Assistant Attorney General Matthew G. Olsen of the Justice Department's National Security Division.
A human rights group in Spain warned last year that Chinese authorities had established more than 100 police stations throughout the world to monitor, harass, and in some cases force its nationals abroad, particularly dissidents, to come home.
Safeguard Defenders, a non-governmental human rights group based in Madrid, said the controversy over the Chinese service centers dates from 2016, when the first such center in Europe was established in Milan, Italy, and then further spread to more than 50 countries worldwide.