An employee of the video giant Zoom partnered with the Chinese government to disrupt video meetings this spring that were held to commemorate the 1989 uprising at Tiananmen Square.
The Justice Department has charged Xinjiang Jin with conspiracy to commit interstate harassment and unlawful conspiracy to transfer a means of identification.
Jin, who was based in China, “allegedly participated in a scheme to disrupt a series of meetings in May and June 2020 held to commemorate the June 4, 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre in the PRC [People’s Republic of China],” the DOJ said in a news release Friday.
“The meetings were conducted using a videoconferencing program provided by Company-1, and were organized and hosted by U.S-based individuals, including individuals residing in the Eastern District of New York,” it said.
Although the Justice Department did not name the company, Zoom issued a statement in response indicating it was cooperating with the investigation.
Jin told China’s government which of its citizens were participating in the calls and also pinpointed non-Chinese citizens on the calls, the complaint said.
During May and June, the complaint said, Jin shut down at least four calls, including video memorial calls with dissidents who survived the 1989 post-protest crackdown and had fled to the United States.
In its news release, the Justice Department focused heavily on the way China’s rulers require companies to operate there.
“No company with significant business interests in China is immune from the coercive power of the Chinese Communist Party,” Assistant Attorney General for National Security John C. Demers said in a statement.
“The Chinese Communist Party will use those within its reach to sap the tree of liberty, stifling free speech in China, the United States and elsewhere about the Party’s repression of the Chinese people,” Demers said. “For companies with operations in China, like that here, this reality may mean executives being coopted to further repressive activity at odds with the values that have allowed that company to flourish here.”
Acting U.S. Attorney Seth D. DuCharme said in a statement, “The allegations in the complaint lay bare the Faustian bargain that the PRC government demands of U.S. technology companies doing business within the PRC’s borders, and the insider threat that those companies face from their own employees in the PRC.
“As alleged, Jin worked closely with the PRC government and members of PRC intelligence services to help the PRC government silence the political and religious speech of users of the platform of a U.S. technology company. Jin willingly committed crimes, and sought to mislead others at the company, to help PRC authorities censor and punish U.S. users’ core political speech merely for exercising their rights to free expression.
“The charges announced today make clear that employees working in the PRC for U.S. technology companies make those companies — and their users — vulnerable to the malign influence of the PRC government.”
The Justice Department said Jin did not act alone but since January 2019 worked with others to use U.S.-based systems “to censor the political and religious speech of individuals located in the United States and around the world at the direction and under the control of officials of the PRC government.”
The Justice Department said China used the information it received to exact revenge for breaking its rules, which forbid mention of the 1989 massacre of pro-democracy students.
“PRC authorities took advantage of information provided by Jin to retaliate against and intimidate participants residing in the PRC, or PRC-based family members of meeting participants,” the DOJ said in the release. “PRC authorities temporarily detained at least one person who planned to speak during a commemoration meeting.
“In another case, PRC authorities visited family members of a participant in the meetings and directed them to tell the participant to cease speaking out against the PRC government and rather to support socialism and the CCP.”
In its statement, Zoom said, “We support the U.S. Government’s commitment to protect American interests from foreign influence.”
“We have also been conducting a thorough internal investigation, and we terminated for violating company policies the China-based former employee charged in this matter. We have also placed other employees on administrative leave pending the completion of our investigation,” the company said.
Zoom said that in 2019, China required it to name a lead person in that country to ensure no Chinese laws were broken by Zoom and its users, and in response the company appointed Jin to the post.
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