AP—New York Two men were arrested Monday for helping the Chinese government set up a secret police station in New York City, and about three dozen Chinese national police officers were charged with using social media to harass dissidents in the US, authorities said.
In recent years, the Justice Department has prosecuted pro-democracy activists and others who openly criticize Beijing’s practices in America.
One of three instances revealed Monday involves a local division of the Chinese Ministry of Public Security that operated in a Manhattan Chinatown office building before closing last autumn amid an FBI probe.
According to the Justice Department, the two men arrested were under the supervision of a Chinese government official and deleted correspondence with that official from their phones after learning of the FBI’s probe.
The Justice Department said these arrests were the first in the world, even though China is suspected to have covert police bases everywhere.
“This is a blatant violation of our national sovereignty,” New York FBI field office head Michael Driscoll said at a news conference announcing the cases.
On Monday morning, U.S. citizens “Harry” Lu Jianwang, 61, of the Bronx, and Chen Jinping, 59, of Manhattan, were arrested at their homes. Lu’s counsel declined to comment. Chen’s lawyer was emailed for comment.
Law enforcement sources said the men never registered with the Justice Department as foreign agents.
The secret police station helped Chinese citizens renew their driver’s licenses and helped the Chinese government find a pro-democracy activist of Chinese descent in California, officials said.
The cases were launched by Brooklyn’s senior federal prosecutor, U.S. Attorney Breon Peace. “Our great city doesn’t need or want a secret police station.”
Recently, the Justice Department has prioritized prosecutions of “transnational repression,” in which foreign governments target, intimidate, and suppress U.S. dissidents.
In 2020, the Justice Department charged six Americans with working for the Chinese government to persuade a New Jersey citizen wanted by Beijing into returning to China to face prosecution.
In January, the Justice Department indicted three men in an alleged Iranian plan to assassinate an Iranian American novelist and activist who has spoken out against human rights abuses.
“In America, the law protects all of us equally from persecution, violence, and threats of violence,” said David Newman, a top Justice Department national security officer.
“As authoritarian governments—whether the PRC, Russia, Iran, or others—become more brazen in their efforts to trample the rights and liberties that are the bedrock of our democracy, the Department of Justice will redouble its efforts to defend our democracy, our democratic institutions, and our sovereignty,” Newman said.
In a second plot unveiled Monday, the Justice Department charged 34 Ministry of Public Security personnel with establishing and utilizing thousands of false Twitter and other social media identities to harass dissidents abroad.
The defendants, all members of a Beijing police task force, used social media to spread Chinese government propaganda on U.S. racial justice protests, Russia’s war against Ukraine, and Hong Kong human rights issues, according to prosecutors. The defendants are all thought to be in China.
On Monday, prosecutors charged eight Chinese government officials living in China with ordering a U.S. telecommunications business employee to remove Chinese dissidents off the site.
A revised complaint indicted 10 people, including former Zoom executive Jin Xinjiang. In December 2020, he was charged with disrupting Zoom meetings commemorating the 1989 Tiananmen Square Massacre in May and June.
Jin was Zoom’s key interface with Chinese government law enforcement and intelligence services, responding to demands to stop meetings and blacklist Zoom users, authorities said.
Tucker covered Washington. New York-based Associated Press writer Bobby Caina Calvan contributed.