A Chinese court has sentenced a 78-year-old US citizen to life in prison on espionage charges.
John Shing Wan Leung, a Hong Kong permanent resident, was detained in April 2021 by Chinese security services. His sentence was announced on Monday by the Suzhou intermediate people’s court on its public WeChat account. No further information about his trial or charges were listed.
Leung’s sentence also included deprivation of political rights for life, and confiscation of personal property in the amount of 500,000 yuan. There are no previous reports or notices of Leung’s arrest or trial. Espionage cases in China are treated with almost no transparency, with trials often conducted in secret and long delays between convictions and sentencing. China’s justice system also regularly reports a conviction rate above 99%.
This month, amendments to China’s anti-espionage law came into force, broadening its scope and increasing the risk to foreign individuals and organisations operating in the country, according to observers.
It is not clear what Leung is accused of. Leung, whose Hong Kong and US ID numbers were published by the court, was born in Hong Kong, and was chair of the Texas branch of the Association for the Promotion of the Peaceful Reunification of China (APPRC), according to Hong Kong media. The Guardian has not independently confirmed his identity.
National and state level APPRCs operate around the world, promoting Beijing’s claim over Taiwan and its plans for what it terms “reunification”. They are believed to be connected to the Chinese Communist party’s united front work department, a global influence operation.
In October 2020, the then US secretary of state Mike Pompeo designated the Washington DC-based National Association for China’s Peaceful Unification (NACPU) as a united front work department. The website of the NACPU, which says it was founded in the 1970s, also refers to itself as the Association for the Promotion of the Peaceful Reunification.
It describes its purpose as fostering cross-straight relations, uniting overseas Chinese, and to “adhere to the one-China principle and oppose all words and deeds that split China’s territory and sovereignty”.
“It is feasible to study the unification of China plan, and strive for the final and complete reunification of China,” it said.
In 2015, the man Hong Kong media has identified as Leung was also reported to have funded eye surgeries for 60 rural Chinese children, through the Guangming hospital. State media and government releases in recent years have also praised his commitment to furthering US-China ties, and working with multiple Chinese overseas cultural organisations and the united front department.
The NACPU has been contacted for comment.
Additional research by Chi Hui Lin
Leave a Reply