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China sentences American to life in prison

Chinese President Xi Jinping. (Lan Hongguang/Xinhua/Sipa USA/TNS)
May 15, 2023

A Chinese court sentenced an elderly American citizen to life in prison on Monday for alleged spying.

A permanent resident of Hong Kong, John Shing-Wan Leung, 78, was convicted of espionage and sentenced to life imprisonment. He was also deprived of political rights for life and his personal property worth 500,000 yuan ($71,700) was confiscated, the Chinese Intermediate People’s Court said in a statement.

A spokesperson for the U.S. Embassy in Beijing told CNN that the State Department “has no greater priority than the safety and security of US citizens overseas,” but would provide no additional comments on Leung’s imprisonment “due to privacy considerations.”

The sentencing comes amid heightened tensions between the United States and China. Last week, a U.S. citizen from Boston, Litang Liang, was arrested and charged with working as an agent of a foreign government, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP).

Liang was accused of working as an agent for the People’s Republic of China since or around 2018 through at least 2022. He had allegedly been secretly working with the CCP to compile a list of people and organizations who participated in protests supporting pro-democracy dissidents in China, according to the Department of Justice.

“The Department of Justice will protect these individual rights and protect our country against those who seek to unlawfully act on behalf of foreign governments while within our borders,” U.S. Attorney Rachael S. Rollins for the District of Massachusetts said in a statement. “We allege that Mr. Liang engaged in a series of acts on behalf of the PRC government including providing information on Boston-area residents, organizations and dissidents to PRC government officials – potentially placing people at risk here in Massachusetts and abroad. Attempts to repress constitutionally protected rights here in the United States will never be tolerated. Anyone who infringes upon those rights on American soil will be identified and held to account.”

This was a breaking news story. The details were periodically updated as more information became available.