After their initial court appearance in Brooklyn federal court, they were released on bond. Representation Image. 4711018/Pixabay

Federal agents from the United States detained two New Yorkers on Monday for allegedly running a Chinese "secret police station" in Manhattan's Chinatown as part of a crackdown on Beijing's alleged persecution of dissidents, according to the prosecution.

Charges of conspiracy to serve as agents of the Chinese government without telling U.S. authorities and obstructing justice are brought against Lu Jianwang, 61, and Chen Jinping, 59.

After their initial court appearance in Brooklyn federal court, they were released on bond.

China has established abroad "service stations," including in New York, that illegally collaborated with Chinese police to persuade fugitives to return to China, according to an investigation published in 2022 by the advocacy group Safeguard Defenders, which has its headquarters in Spain.

According to the Chinese government, there are centers outside of China that assist Chinese citizens with document renewal and provide other services. These centers are staffed by local volunteers rather than Chinese police personnel, Reuters reported.

The Department of Justice has stepped up investigations into what it refers to as "transnational repression" carried out by rivals of the United States, such as China and Iran, to frighten political opponents who reside in the country.

"We cannot and will not tolerate the Chinese government's persecution of pro-democracy activists who have sought refuge in this country," Breon Peace, the top federal prosecutor in Brooklyn, told reporters.

Charges against 34 Chinese officials were announced by prosecutors on Monday for allegedly running a "troll farm" and harassing dissidents online, including by interrupting their meetings on American technology platforms.

They also added eight Chinese government officials as defendants in a 2020 lawsuit accusing a former Zoom Video Communications Inc. (ZM.O) executive headquartered in China of interfering in video conferences honoring the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests.

The officials charged are all at large.

"By initiating prosecution against Chinese citizens under the pretext of 'transnational repression', the U.S. side is exercising long-arm jurisdiction based on fabricated charges. This is sheer political manipulation, and the purpose is to smear China's image," said Liu Pengyu, a spokesperson for the Chinese embassy in the U.S.

According to prosecutors, Lu and Chen are both citizens of the United States and the founders of a nonprofit organization whose stated goal is to serve as a social hub for residents of China's Fujian province.

The men's New York operation had a complete floor in a nondescript building in Chinatown close to the Manhattan Bridge before it shut down in the fall of 2022.

Peace claimed that the site was "at the very least" used for official functions, such as assisting some Chinese citizens with the renewal of their driver's licenses, which should have been reported to American authorities.

He added nevertheless that it was sometimes employed for more "sinister" actions.

Prosecutors claimed that in 2018, Lu tried to persuade a person considered a fugitive by China to return home.

According to the prosecution, Lu and Chen told the FBI they had destroyed their correspondence with a Chinese government official.

In November, FBI Director Christopher Wray stated to a U.S. Senate committee that he was "very concerned" about the existence of such stations in American cities.

More than a dozen Chinese nationals and others had previously been accused by prosecutors of conducting surveillance and harassment campaigns against dissidents living in the United States, including by attempting to forcibly repatriate individuals who China believed to be fugitives.

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