CELLE, Germany—For the first time a Chinese agent has been convicted of spying on practitioners of Falun Gong, the meditation and spiritual discipline that the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) in 1999 vowed to crush. The guilty party, John Zhou, was given a two-year suspended sentence on June 8, along with a hefty fine.
Zhou, 55, a Chinese doctor by profession, was one of the earliest adoptees of Falun Gong in Germany in the late 1990s. He began working with Chinese agents over five years ago. After several years of investigation—including visits from German counterintelligence informing him that he was under suspicion—prosecutors brought him to trial on May 26 in the Niedersachsen State Supreme Court in the city of Celle.
The court handed down a suspended sentence of two years in prison and a fine of 15,000 euros (US$21,530), to be paid to the human rights group Amnesty International.
Zhou’s desire in 2005 to visit his sick father in China first led to his establishing contact with Tang Wenjuan, head of the Chinese Embassy’s Consular Section in Berlin and then to his career as a spy, according to court documents. Tang is actually a member of the Ministry of State Security, a domestic spy agency, according to a May 2010 piece in Der Spiegel. During this meeting Zhou expressed a willingness to help the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) “solve the Falun Gong problem,” court documents show.
Months later, in March 2006, Zhou was introduced to three agents of the “610 Office” at a hotel in downtown Berlin. The 610 Office is an extralegal, secret task force with sweeping powers set up by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) to coordinate and carry out the persecution of Falun Gong. It also conducts espionage and harassment against Falun Gong practitioners abroad, attempting to reduce the influence of the group’s vocal criticism of human rights abuses against Falun Gong adherents in China.
Falun Gong is a Chinese meditation practice with five meditative exercises and teachings based on the principles of truthfulness, compassion, and tolerance; it has been the target of a vast CCP-led persecution in China since 1999, and soon after also became an important target of the Chinese regime’s overseas espionage efforts.
Chen Yonglin was the former consul for political affairs in China’s consulate in Sydney, Australia, and was tasked with handling the Falun Gong issue. After defecting in June 2005, he testified before a committee of the U.S. House of Representatives, “The war against Falun Gong is one of the main tasks of the Chinese mission overseas.” Chen listed several examples of how the Sydney consulate attempted to interfere with and restrict Falun Gong practitioners, including strictly “monitoring” Falun Gong activities.
In the initial meeting with the agents it was established that Zhou would report directly to a high-ranking 610 official named Chen Bin. From that point the two men spoke via Skype several times a week; at his sentencing Zhou said that this was because they had a “friendly” connection.
Zhou’s friendship with Chen also extended to regularly forwarding him Falun Gong practitioners’ e-mails—though in 2009 he went a step further than this. Zhou set up another e-mail account for Chen to access, and using his position as a trusted Falun Gong practitioner, had it added to the listserv. This meant that thousands of e-mails from Falun Gong practitioners in Germany were automatically delivered to the e-mail account, which Chen accessed from Shanghai, according to the prosecutor.Throughout the indictment, trial, and sentencing, Zhou maintained that he had forwarded the e-mails in an attempt to “exert influence” over CCP officials’ view of Falun Gong, with a view to softening the persecution in China.