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Judge sets trial date for New Yorker accused of spying

A gavel cracks down. (Airman 1st Class Aspen Reid/U.S. Air Force)
September 23, 2023

This article was originally published by Radio Free Asia and is reprinted with permission.

A federal judge on Thursday set a date for the trial of July 15, 2024, in the prosecution of Wang Shujun, 76, of Queens, New York, an historian and a former Columbia University scholar.

Wang, a naturalized U.S. citizen, has been accused of secretly working for officials from a Chinese security ministry, providing them with information about pro-democracy activists in the United States and abroad.

The announcement by Chief Judge Margo Brodie to convene the trial in July was welcomed by prosecutors. 

Wang appeared in the federal courtroom in Brooklyn, Eastern District of New York, dressed in a dark jacket and a red, white and blue tie. Early in the proceedings, he made a deep bow before the judge as a sign of respect. He was assisted during the hearing by a Mandarin-speaking court interpreter. 

For years, Wang had worked as a volunteer for the Hu Yaobang and Zhao Ziyang Memorial Foundation, a pro-democracy organization located in Queens. The organization is named after Communist Party leaders who had pushed for liberalization; Hu’s death led to protests in April 1989, and then the Tiananmen Square massacre.

Here in the United States, prosecutors said, Wang spent years secretly providing information about colleagues to his handlers, officials who worked for China’s Ministry of State Security (MSS).

Wang told his Chinese government handlers about individuals he knows and whom the Chinese government officials consider to be a threat to Beijing, such as activists working toward Taiwanese independence, according to the prosecutors.

In one instance, according to the prosecutors, Wang provided information about a pro-democracy activist rights lawyer in Hong Kong who was later arrested.

Wang has been charged with making false statements to law enforcement officials and acting as an unregistered agent of the Chinese government.

He was arrested at his apartment in Flushing, Queens, in March 2022, and he is currently on a $300,000 bond.

Speaking in the courtroom on Thursday, Kevin Tung, a lawyer for Wang, gave a sense of how he would argue on behalf of his client. Tung said that his client would take the stand and that an expert on the pro-democracy movement would also testify. 

Wang has maintained his innocence, stating in an affidavit that his years-long involvement with the pro-democracy movement and his public statements calling for reforms in the Chinese government show he was not secretly working for the Chinese government. 

A spokesperson for the Chinese Embassy in Washington did not respond to an RFA request for comment on the case. 

U.S. prosecutors say the case sheds light on the Chinese government’s campaign to sway political views and silence dissent well beyond China’s borders. They say the efforts have significantly ramped up in recent months. This spring, two individuals were arrested for allegedly running a Chinese overseas police station in lower Manhattan that served as an outpost to harass dissidents.