The U.S. Justice Department has charged five individuals working on behalf of the People’s Republic of China (PRC) secret police for targeting, harassing, and spying on Chinese nationals living in the United States “for their pro-democracy views.”
DOJ arrested co-conspirators Fan “Frank” Liu and Matthew Ziburis on Tuesday and Shujun Wang on Wednesday Eastern District of New York. Two other defendants, including Qiming Lin and Qiang “Jason” Sun, remain at large, according to DOJ.
The “victims were targeted because of their pro-democracy views,” U.S. Attorney Breon Peace said during a Wednesday press briefing. Defendants are accused of “conspiring to act as agents of the PRC government,” he continued.
The five defendants are accused of threatening and spying on Chinese individuals in the United States who expressed opposition to the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) in an effort to help Chinese officials target them for arrest, DOJ officials said.
In one case, Lin attempted to derail the U.S. congressional campaign of a U.S. military veteran who was a student leader in the pro-democracy Tiananmen Square protests in China in 1989. Lin threatened to attack the candidate, among other crimes, in order to prevent his election to Congress, according to Peace.
In another case, Wang posed as “a well-known author and activist” based in Queens, New York, but abused his position to give information to the CCP.
In the third case, three defendants including Liu, Ziburis, and Sun attempted to spy on and destroy the artwork of a Chinese national based in Los Angeles, California. The victim’s artwork was critical of the Chinese government.
The FBI is currently investigating the three cases.
“Authoritarian states around the world feel emboldened to reach beyond their borders, to intimidate or exact reprisals against individuals who dare to speak out against oppression and corruption,” Assistant Attorney General of the National Security Division Matthew Olsen said Wednesday.
Defendants face multiple charges, including conspiring to act as agents of the PRC government to commit interstate harassment and to bribe a public official. Charges hold maximum prison sentences of five years, according to DOJ officials.
The charges come after the Biden administration announced in February that it would be ending DOJ’s “China Initiative” program that was aimed at preventing spying by the Chinese Communist Party, and launching a new, “broader approach.” The China Initiative was started in 2018 under the Trump administration to protect U.S. national security against Chinese spying on U.S. intellectual property and in academia.
In its place, the administration implemented a new “Strategy for Countering Nation-State Threats.” Assistant Attorney General Matthew Olsen said Wednesday’s arrests are an example of the new strategy, noting that the DOJ has since brought cases against Belarusians, Iranian and Russian agents.
Olsen also said there has been an “alarming rise” in cases of foreign agents from China, Iran, Russia, and other countries spying on and threatening “dissident voices” within the United States.