National Security

Chinese Dissidents In The US Detail Transnational Repression, Censorship At The Hands Of Communist China

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Micaela Burrow Investigative Reporter, Defense
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Chinese dissidents targeted by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) explained to the Daily Caller News Foundation that Beijing officials were able to weaponize American companies to censor and harass them while on U.S. soil.

The Department of Justice (DOJ) recently charged roughly 40 members and accomplices of the Chinese security state for allegedly participating in a scheme to disrupt and shut down movements of anti-Chinese Communist Party (CCP) activists on social media and a videoconferencing platform, according to two separate complaints. U.S.-based dissidents who say they were harassed by the officials spoke to the DCNF about how China sought to crush pro-democracy activities on American platforms that were organized by survivors of the Tiananmen Square massacre, warning that Chinese government operatives may be attempting to compromise multiple American tech companies to repress Chinese nationals abroad.

The charges “revealed a lot about how U.S. companies are being hijacked by the CCP’s Ministry of Public Security (MPS) in the form of an employee [who] was actually a CCP national security agent in this case,” Fengsuo Zhou, executive director of Human Rights in China and an exiled student leader of the Tiananmen protests, told the DCNF. (RELATED: Over 60 Christian Dissidents Detained In Thailand Facing Imprisonment, Torture If Deported To China)

‘Deliberately Sabotaged’

At the direction of the MPS, government officials and employees at a widely-used telecommunications company referred to as “Company-1” in court filings made various attempts to disrupt meetings that anti-CCP activists organized to commemorate the Tiananmen Square Massacre, according to DOJ complaints and FBI affidavits filed to support the charges. One employee of the company, Julien Jin, allegedly served as the primary mediator for the firm’s interactions with Chinese law enforcement and intelligence organizations.

MPS officers and accomplices, including company employees, allegedly infiltrated the meetings and posted threats against the participants through a chat function on the meeting platform, according to the documents.

The complaints and affidavits do not explicitly reveal the identity of Company-1, but language used to describe the company points to Zoom, a videoconferencing program that exploded in popularity during the 2020 COVID-19 pandemic. The affidavits describe video communication features as well as having headquarters in San Jose, California; offices in Suzhou, China; and operations worldwide, as well as the fact that Jin was previously identified as having worked at Zoom.

Zoom did not respond to the Daily Caller News Foundation’s request for comment.

“Any company with bases in China has such kind of operation with [the] Chinese government,” Fengsuo told the DNCF.

China puts pressure on companies with offices in Beijing to embed liaisons who interface with the Chinese government, making them tantamount to “national security agents,” he added. Part of the CCP’s plan is to “control U.S. companies.”

“We haven’t seen, for example, any U.S. company telling us what or how is the guidance, the order from Beijing. This is very important — the issue is we have to have transparency,” said Fengsuo.

Fengsuo said he organized the first Tiananmen commemoration conference on May 31, 2020 on Zoom, one of several that have taken place in recent years. Chinese agents spammed the meeting and used harassment tactics and physical threats to dissuade overseas and China-based dissidents from participating or speaking at the event, and sought to delete the host account while collecting personal information on the host, according to the FBI affidavits.

“A few days later after the other [event] was disrupted, our account went down,” Fengsuo said.

A similar scenario played out on January 21, 2021, the affidavits show. MPS officers and affiliates nearly terminated a meeting organized on the topic of countering communism, using music, vulgar calls and threats directed at the participants.

“The ‘Global Anti-Communist Internet Conference’ initiated by Wang Dan, Chen Pokong and other overseas Chinese pro-democracy activists was held on January 21, but the conference was deliberately sabotaged by the suspected Chinese cyber army, and it was delayed for two and a half hours,” Jing Zhang, a New York-based human rights advocate who participated in the event, told the DCNF.

“I can’t get into the Zoom and [I have to] wait for less than two hours,” Jing said, appearing to suggest the firm in question is the San Jose-based videoconferencing platform Zoom.

The meeting repeatedly lost connection and participants were booted from the meeting room seemingly at random, Jing, who founded the organization Women’s Rights In China, told the DCNF.

“Some members were overwhelmed by unprovoked noise when they spoke, and the online chat room was also washed out with vulgar remarks,” she added. Phrases lobbed at participants included “a group of liars are meeting here.”

While the organizers had planned for hundreds of people to attend, the event was reduced to about 50 participants by the end, Jing said.

The national flags of France and China fluter near Tiananmen Gate as French President Emmanuel Macron visits in Beijing on April 6, 2023. (Photo by Ludovic MARIN / AFP) (Photo by LUDOVIC MARIN/AFP via Getty Images)

‘Monitor For Content’

Beijing’s efforts to surveil, censor and at times capture are widespread and span multiple avenues, from commonly-used technologies to secret police stations.

“The CCP’s efforts to stamp out criticism and free political expression don’t stop at China’s borders. Beijing has leveraged American tech companies like Zoom to silence and intimidate dissidents within the United States,” Michael Sobolik, a fellow in Indo-Pacific studies at the America First Policy Institute, told the DCNF.

Since 2018, Jin, six MPS officers, two officials with the Cyberspace Administration of China (CAC) and another Chinese citizen allegedly began a CCP-directed campaign to harass and silence overseas Chinese dissidents residing in New York City, according to a complaint filed on April 17. A previous indictment in 2020 charged only Jin, who still resides in China, with conspiring to clamp down on a videoconference to commemorate the Tiananmen Square tragedy through his role at an unnamed company, which people familiar with the matter confirmed to The Wall Street Journal as Zoom.

Jin allegedly used his influence with the CCP to push the company to shut down anti-China meetings and block users seen as dangerous to the CCP, according to the complaint. Zoom fired Jin following an investigation into the matter.

Company-1 allegedly sought to expand and restructure operations within China during the COVID-19 pandemic, according to the affidavit filed on behalf of the DOJ case accusing Julien Jin and the other MPS and CAC officers. Beijing also threatened Company-1 with curtailing the firm’s Chinese operations unless it complied with censorship requests.

“Internal communications between JULIEN JIN, Employee-1 and certain other Company-1 employees in the United States and the PRC reflect a decision to monitor for content disfavored by the PRC government and the CCP in a manner that extended to users outside of the PRC, including in the United States,” the affidavit states.

In a separate complaint, the DOJ charged an additional 34 MPS officers for their role in the conspiracy from at least 2020 onward. Members of a digital hit squad called the 912 Special Project Working Group created thousands of fake personas on social media, some posing as apparently Western individuals, to promote pro-CCP narratives and harangue pro-democracy activists throughout the world.

Some even issued death threats against a high-profile opponent of the Chinese government, described as “Victim-1,” according to a standing order that came directly from MPS headquarters, the complaint alleged.

“I know there are other companies who have a leak or are hijacked by [the] CCP’s machine,” Fengsuo said.

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