U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of New York Breon Peace speaks during a press conference in New York City on April 17. Photo: Angela Weiss/AFP via Getty Images
The Chinese government has spied on and harassed Chinese dissidents in the U.S., including setting up a secret police station in New York City, the Department of Justice alleged in a press briefing Monday.
Why it matters: The news comes as tensions between the U.S. and China remain high, following a surge in 2022.
- The cases unveiled Monday build upon other actions the Chinese government has taken to target dissidents who have been critical of the government.
- The Chinese Embassy in the U.S. did not immediately respond to Axios' request for comment.
State of play: The DOJ announced charges and arrests in three cases that highlight China's "multi-front campaign to extend the reach and impacts of its authoritarian system into the United States," David Newman, principal deputy assistant attorney general, said.
- In the first case, Breon Peace, U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of New York, announced the arrest on Monday of two individuals that allegedly set up a secret police station in New York City.
- On at least one occasion, a Chinese National Police official directed "one of the defendants, a US citizen who worked at the secret police station, to help locate a pro-democracy activist of Chinese descent living in California," Peace said.
- Upon learning of the FBI investigation, the two defendants destroyed evidence of their communication with the Chinese National Police, he added.
In the second case, the DOJ announced charges against 34 of China's Ministry of Public Security (MPS) officers for belonging to a task force that allegedly using fake social media accounts to target Chinese democracy activists and dissidents outside of China.
- The task force operated as a "troll farm" and in some cases interfered dissident meetings held on U.S. technology platforms, thereby subjecting "Chinese dissidents living here in the United States to the authoritarian rule of" China, Peace said, calling it "unacceptable."
- In other cases they used their fake profiles to spread Chinese government propaganda and disinformation, Peace added.
The third criminal complaint unsealed Monday builds upon a previous complaint from Dec. 2020, detailing how MPS officers targeted virtual meetings on an unnamed U.S. communications technology company.
- In Dec. 2020, the DOJ charged a China-based Zoom employee for disrupting disrupting video meetings that commemorated the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre.
- The amended complaint says the MPS officers' actions had a "chilling effect on meeting participants," Newman said.
- The MPS also allegedly "worked closely" with another defendant, who was at the time an employee of the technology company based in China, to censor speech on the platform — including speech taking place in the U.S., Newman added.
The big picture: The alleged tactics used by the Chinese government are a form of transnational repression in which the perpetrator abuses the existing institutions of a host country to silence the victims or make their lives as difficult as possible.
- An Axios investigation found that fake bomb threats had been part of a harassment campaign targeting three Chinese people living abroad who have been critical of China's government.
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