U.S. prosecutors have charged a China-based executive of Zoom over his role in disrupting video meetings held to commemorate the Tiananmen Square Massacre this year, the Justice Department announced on Dec. 18. Zoom is a popular U.S.-based videoconferencing app, developed in China.
Prosecutors allege that Jin Xinjiang, or “Julien” Jin, worked under the direction of Chinese security officials to censor a series of meetings in May and June this year held by U.S.-based activists to mark the 31st anniversary of the 1989 Tiananmen Square Massacre, when the Chinese regime violently suppressed a protest movement calling for pro-democracy reforms. Jin was charged with conspiracy to commit interstate harassment and unlawful conspiracy to transfer a means of identification. He is still at-large in China.
The app previously came under scrutiny for its China ties, including that it was sending user data to servers in Beijing.
“Jin worked closely with the PRC [People’s Republic of China] 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,” Acting U.S. Attorney Seth D. DuCharme said in a statement.
The events described in the court documents match those of a controversy that occurred in June, when Zoom suspended the account of a group of U.S.-based Chinese activists a week after they used the platform to hold an event to commemorate the victims of the Tiananmen Square Massacre. Zoom later confirmed that the Chinese regime demanded it suspend three accounts of overseas Chinese rights activists because participation in the events was considered “illegal in China.” The incident sparked an outcry from lawmakers and activists who accused the American company of bowing to Chinese censorship. Discussion of the 1989 bloody crackdown is heavily censored in China.
“No company with significant business interests in China is immune from the coercive power of the Chinese Communist Party,” said Assistant Attorney General for National Security John C. Demers in a statement.
Cooperating With Chinese Authorities
Jin was the company’s liaison with Chinese law enforcement and intelligence officials, prosecutors said. According to the complaint, Jin was directed by Chinese officials to shut down at least four video meetings on the platform marking the event, most of which were organized by Chinese dissidents in the United States.
In May and June, Jin together with Chinese officials hatched a plan to convince U.S. executives to shut down the meetings and suspend the activists’ accounts by fabricating evidence that their meetings had violated the platforms’ terms of service.
They created fake email accounts on the platform to show that the hosts and participants in the meetings were apparently supporting terrorist organizations, inciting violence, or distributing child pornography. The fabricated evidence made the meetings appear to discuss child abuse or exploitation, terrorism, racism, or incitements to violence, the court complaint said.
Jin and officials also provided screenshots allegedly of the participants’ user profiles that showed a masked person holding an Islamic State flag, according to prosecutors.
Jin was able to use these details to persuade U.S. executives to cancel the video meetings and suspend or shut down the U.S. activists’ accounts.
“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.
Prosecutors further allege that Chinese authorities used information given by Jin to intimidate participants of the meeting who reside in China, or family members of participants in China. Chinese authorities temporarily detained at least one person who planned to speak at the event. They also visited family members of a participant and ordered them to tell the participant to stop speaking out against the Chinese regime, and instead support socialism and the Chinese Communist Party.
Holding Companies Accountable
Zhou Fengsuo, founder of U.S.-based advocacy group Humanitarian China, hosted an event on May 31, which had some 4,000 participants tune in around the world. He recalled that many scheduled speakers from China sent pre-recorded messages that day due to pressure from authorities. Many were detained nonetheless.
The prosecution is “the first step toward upholding justice” and should serve as a warning to other companies that sacrifice values for profit, he said in an interview with The Epoch Times.
“We have suffered from this kind of infiltration for so long, and this is the first time the U.S. law enforcement agencies took action to hold the CCP accountable,” he said.
That Jin allegedly acted under the directive of Chinese intelligence officials was also telling, he added. When U.S. companies go to China, “it’s no longer a kind of business cooperation, but a direct collaboration with the regime,” he said. “They become a part of the regime’s machinery in suppressing pro-democracy activists and encroaching on human rights.”
Zhou also applauded the notable increase in U.S. prosecution of Chinese espionage cases over the past year.
“Any company—doesn’t matter if you are based in the United States or China—you have to submit to the will of the regime,” he said. Companies such as Zoom wield formidable economic sway in U.S. industries, making it even more crucial to step up scrutiny and hold them accountable over such complicity with Beijing, he said.
If convicted of both charges, Jin faces a maximum of 10 years in prison.
In a statement, the company said that it fully cooperated with federal authorities in this matter, and is also conducting a “thorough internal investigation.” It added that the firm has sacked Jin for violating company policies, while other unnamed employees have been placed on administrative leave pending the internal investigation.
The company confirmed that “fewer than ten individual users'” data were provided to the Chinese government, and that Jin “potentially shared meeting information for a Tiananmen Square remembrance.” Other than these users, the company said it did not believe Jin or “any other Zoom employee provided the Chinese government with user data of non-China-based users.”
“There is no indication that any enterprise data was shared with the Chinese government,” according to the statement.
This article was updated to include Zoom’s statement.