CPJ alarmed by attacks on Chinese journalists in U.S.

New York, February 23, 2006—The Committee to Protect Journalists is alarmed by attacks and threats against ethnic Chinese journalists based in or near the U.S. cities of Atlanta, San Francisco, and New York. Journalists for the Falun Gong-affiliated newspaper and Web site Epoch Times told CPJ that they believe they have been targeted in retaliation for reporting and commentary that is critical of the Chinese government.

Falun Gong, which is banned in China, is a religious movement that is politically active in opposition to the Chinese government. Epoch Times often carries news and commentary that is very critical of the Chinese Communist Party.

On February 8 before noon, Epoch Times Chief Technical Officer Li Yuan was attacked by three men in his home in Duluth, a suburb of Atlanta, Georgia, Li told CPJ. Two Korean-speaking men armed with a knife and a gun beat him in the face and bound him with an electrical cord, while a third asked in Mandarin Chinese the location of Li’s safe.

“I was bleeding and I couldn’t see,” Li told CPJ. “They had duct tape on my eyes and mouth.”

The attackers stole two laptop computers, according to a local Fulton County police report. Li said that the men went through his files but left other valuables untouched.

“I believe they were Chinese agents, or that Chinese agents hired local people to do it,” in order to intimidate him and others involved with Epoch Times, said Li, a U.S. citizen born in China.

He told CPJ that he believed the men may have been looking for evidence of the technical means by which Epoch Times thwarts Chinese government jamming of its Web site in the mainland, or the identities of writers in mainland China who have contributed to the news outlet.

CPJ has documented the imprisonment in mainland China of three journalists, Zheng Yichun, Zhang Lin and Yang Tianshui, for writing critically about the government in the Epoch Times and other banned news Web sites. Zheng was sentenced in 2005 to seven years in prison on charges of “inciting subversion,” Zhang was sentenced to five years on the same charge, and Yang, who was detained in December 2005, has not been tried.

Local police in Georgia declined to comment on the attack on Li. FBI spokesman Stephen Emmett told The Associated Press that the bureau is looking into the attack as a possible civil rights violation, but did not comment on whether the Chinese government was involved. Emmett had no further comment when contacted by CPJ.

Chu Maoming, press officer at the Chinese Embassy in Washington, D.C., told CPJ today that the allegations of Chinese government involvement were “totally a rumor fabricated by the evil cult.”

“Falun Gong have been outlawed by the Chinese government because they are an evil cult, anti-society, anti-humankind and anti-science,” Chu said. “Please be aware of the essence of the evil cult. You don’t know what’s going on.”

Other U.S.-based editors for Epoch Times have been threatened. An executive and editor at the newspaper’s San Francisco branch, Alex Ma, told CPJ that unknown individuals broke into his house on two separate occasions in 2005. Days after the first break-in, family members in China called to warn him to stop his “activities,” he said. Ma said he believed that state security agents issued the warning after he had organized forums in San Francisco to discuss the “Nine Commentaries on the Chinese Communist Party,” an extremely critical and controversial Epoch Times series on the practices of the Party.

Huang Wanqing, New York-based vice president of Epoch Times and former news editor of the Web site, told CPJ that his family in China was also visited several times in the last two years by state security agents, who said that Huang’s activities in the U.S. were under surveillance by Chinese agents. Huang’s family told him that state security agents knew private details about his life in the U.S., including his bank account information.

Chinese embassy press officer Chu said that he was unaware of these cases.