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U.S. charges Queens author with spying on dissidents for China

U.S. charges Queens author with spying on dissidents for China
Federal prosecutors have charged an author from Queens with spying for China. Pool File Photo by Win McNamee/UPI | License Photo

May 18 (UPI) -- Federal prosecutors have charged a Chinese American academic and author who helped start a pro-democracy organization in the United States of spying for years on Chinese immigrants and dissident communities for Beijing.

The indictment unsealed in a Brooklyn federal court on Tuesday charges Wang Shujun, 73, of Queens, N.Y., and four Chinese intelligence officers who remain at large with conspiracy and other crimes stemming from an espionage and transnational repression scheme conducted in the United States and abroad, the Justice Department said in a statement Wednesday.

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Wang was arrested March 16 when he was initially charged with acting as an agent of the Chinese government, criminal use of identification and making false statements concerning his participation in a repression scheme orchestrated by China's Ministry of State Security. Three U.S. residents and a Chinese national were also charged in the indictment with related crimes.

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According to the court document unsealed Tuesday, Wang is accused of spying for China on prominent activists and members of human rights organizations in the United States since at least 2011.

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"We will not tolerate efforts by the PRC or any authoritarian government to export repressive measures to our country," Assistant Attorney General Matthew Olsen of the Justice Department's National Security Division said, referring to China by the initials of its official name, the People's Republic of China.

Federal prosecutors said Wang helped start a Queens-based pro-democracy organization that opposes China's communist regime and he used his position within the Chinese diaspora and dissident groups to collect information about their members at the direction of his handlers, four intelligence officers who were identified and charged in the indictment as Feng He, Jie Ji, Ming Li and Keqing Lu.

Wang targeted Hong Kong pro-democracy activists and advocates for Taiwanese independence as well as Uighur and Tibetan supporters whose information he would pass on to the four Chinese agents via encrypted messaging applications and emails.

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Prosecutors detailed how he'd compose "diaries" that the agents could access that included details about his conversations with prominent dissidents, activists and members of human rights organizations.

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In total, he is accused of composing at least 163 so-called diaries that law enforcement were able to find in a search of his residence, with at least one person he wrote about -- a Hong Kong democracy activist -- being subsequently arrested by China.

"If anyone doubts how serious the Chinese government is about silencing its critics, this case should eliminate any uncertainty," said Acting Executive Assistant Director Alan Kohler Jr. of the FBI's National Security Branch. "The Chinese government's aggressive tactics were once confined to its borders. Now, the PRC is targeting people in the United States and around the world."

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The indictment details a November 2016 exchange between Wang and one of his handlers allegedly showing he was instructed to attend a pro-democracy event with instructions to interact with a specific attendee who had Tibetan, Uighur and Mongolian contacts. In another communication from that same month, Wang said he had talked with a prominent human rights activist and had asked "the necessary questions," to which he received "candid" answers.

Lu, who is referred to as "boss" in the communications, responded with a thumbs-up emoticon.

"Great," Lu is quoted in the charging document as having responded.

China has previously rejected the U.S. accusations of state-sponsored espionage.

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In March, after the initial indictment was unsealed, Beijing's foreign ministry spokesman, Zhao Lijian, rejected the accusation that it was behind the scheme, stating during a press conference that they oppose "U.S.' unwarranted denigration and smearing against China."

"The accusation of 'transnational repression schemes' is totally made out of thin air," he said. "The U.S. attempt to hype up 'China threat' and tarnish China's reputation is doomed to fail.

"The U.S. side should abandon the Cold War mentality and ideological bias, stop groundless accusation and smearing against china and do more to promote China-U.S. relations."

Wang is to be arraigned at a later date.

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