US charges ex-Zoom employee with shutting down Tiananmen Square events

BBC News

US prosecutors have charged a former Zoom employee with disrupting video meetings marking the anniversary of the 1989 crackdown on protests in Tiananmen Square on behalf of China’s government.

The China-based executive, Xinjiang Jin, is accused of helping to terminate at least four video meetings in May and June, hosted by people based in the US.

A warrant is out for his arrest.

Zoom said it was co-operating with authorities. China has not commented on the case.

The California-based company said it had “terminated” the employee for violating its policies, and had “placed other employees on administrative leave pending the completion” of an internal investigation.

The pro-democracy protests and their suppression are strictly taboo in China.

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What are the allegations?

A statement from the US Department of Justice said Xinjiang Jin, also known as Julien Jin, had been charged with “conspiracy to commit interstate harassment and unlawful conspiracy to transfer a means of identification”.

Prosecutors say that from January 2019 he conspired to “censor the political and religious speech of individuals located in the United States and around the world at the direction and under the control of officials” in the Chinese government.

Among the actions taken on behalf of China’s government, prosecutors allege that the 39-year-old and others terminated at least four meetings commemorating the 31st anniversary of the Tiananmen Square crackdown, some of which were attended by dissidents who had participated in and survived the protests.

They allege that he fabricated violations of Zoom’s terms of service to justify his actions to his superiors.

“Jin willingly committed crimes, and sought to mislead others at the company, to help [Chinese] authorities censor and punish US users’ core political speech merely for exercising their rights to free expression,” acting US Attorney Seth DuCharme in Brooklyn said in a statement.

According to the statement, the Chinese authorities “took advantage of information provided by Jin to retaliate against and intimidate participants” residing in China or family members of participants based in the country.

The statement does not mention Zoom by name, but the company confirmed that its former employee had been charged.

“We learned during the course of our investigation that the China-based former employee charged today violated Zoom’s policies by, among other things, attempting to circumvent certain internal access controls,” it said.

It added that the employee “took actions resulting in the termination of several meetings in remembrance of Tiananmen Square and meetings involving religious and/or political activities” and “also shared or directed the sharing of a limited amount of individual user data with Chinese authorities”.

Mr Jin is living in China and is not in US custody. He faces up to 10 years in prison.

What happened at Tiananmen Square in 1989?

Pro-democracy protesters occupied Tiananmen Square in April 1989 and began the largest political demonstrations in communist China’s history. They lasted six weeks, with as many as a million people taking part.

On the night of 3 June tanks moved in and troops opened fire, killing and injuring many unarmed people in and around Tiananmen Square.

Wang Dan one of the leaders of the Tiananmen Square protests

Afterwards the authorities claimed no-one had been shot dead in the square itself. Estimates of those killed in the crackdown range from a few hundred to several thousand.

China has never given an official figure for how many people died.

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