Ex-Zoom China Employee Faces U.S. Dissident Censoring Charge
(Bloomberg) -- A former Zoom Video Communications Inc. executive working in China has been charged by the U.S. with conspiring to censor Chinese dissidents and disrupt a video conference commemorating the anniversary of the June 4, 1989, Tiananmen Square crackdown.
Federal prosecutors in Brooklyn, New York, say Xinjiang “Julien” Jin, 39, was a San Jose, California-based telecommunications company’s main liaison with law enforcement and intelligence agencies of the People’s Republic of China. While Jin’s employer wasn’t identified by prosecutors, Zoom said on Friday it was the company.
The case is the latest in a U.S. crackdown targeting China’s alleged suppression of dissent. In September, prosecutors in Brooklyn charged a New York City Police officer with spying on ethnic-Tibetans for China. In October, the U.S. charged eight people with acting as illegal agents of the People’s Republic of China in a campaign aimed at pressuring dissidents to return to their home country.
Jin is living in China and not in custody, the U.S. said. The company, whose video conferencing app has become ubiquitous during the pandemic, apologized in June for shutting down four Tiananmen Square commemorations at the demand of the Chinese government. Zoom pledged at the time that it would not let Chinese government demands affect users outside of China in the future.
In its Friday statement, Zoom said it was cooperating with prosecutors and had terminated Jin after it determined through an internal investigation he had violated company policies. Zoom said other employees have been placed on administrative leave pending the completion of its investigation. The company said it had also received subpoenas from federal prosecutors in California seeking information about contacts between its employees and the Chinese government.
“Zoom is dedicated to the free and open exchange of ideas and supports the U.S. government’s commitment to protect American interests from foreign influence,” the company said.
“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,” said Seth DuCharme, acting U.S. Attorney in Brooklyn, “and the insider threat that those companies face from their own employees in the PRC.”
A Chinese citizen, Jin began working with Chinese officials and others in January 2019 to help terminate at least four video meetings hosted on the company’s networks to mark the 31st anniversary of the massacre, DuCharme said. Most of these were organized and attended by U.S.-based dissidents who’d participated and survived the 1989 protests.
“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,” DuCharme said.
Jin is also accused of helping the Chinese officials identify meeting participants outside of China by providing their IP addresses, names and email addresses. Prosecutors say he also created bogus reasons to justify Zoom terminating meetings and certain user accounts, including faking evidence that users had violated the company’s terms of service.
As a result of his actions, China retaliated against family members of some of these U.S.-based dissidents and meeting participants, according to the U.S.
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