Citing safety threats, Chinese researcher asks to be moved to new housing

©The Sacramento Bee

Researcher Juan Tang. - Department of Justice/TNS/TNS

SACRAMENTO, Calif. — Citing “significant concerns” about the safety of the University of California, Davis Chinese researcher accused of lying about her ties to China’s military, her lawyers are asking a federal judge to let her move out of a Bay Area home where she is under house arrest and into an apartment.

Dr. Juan Tang has been living since Sept. 10 in the home of Foster City attorney Steven Cui, an emigre from China who had never before met or spoken to Tang but offered to take her in to show that the U.S. justice system works fairly.

A judge agreed to release Tang from the Sacramento County Jail to live under supervision inside Cui’s home after the attorney agreed to put up $750,000 equity in his home that he would forfeit if Tang fled while awaiting trial on charges that she lied on her visa application to gain entry to the United States.

Since her release, however, growing tensions between the governments of the United States and China over American arrests of numerous Chinese scientists have created concerns for the safety of Tang, Cui and others living or visiting his home, Sacramento lawyers Malcolm Segal and Tom Johnson wrote in a motion filed in Sacramento federal court.

“There has been a steady interest in this case in the local and national press in the United States, in part because of the defendant’s detention,” her lawyers wrote. “A photograph, claiming to be her likeness, has been widely published.

“There has also been a stream of negative press in the Chinese language media, often very hostile toward Dr. Tang, and toward the Third-Party Custodian (Cui) during and after his appointment.

“Those public attacks have been not only persistent but are increasingly unsettling. False accusations have been made that the Third-Party Custodian, by stepping forward to assist the defendant, is working with or for the Chinese government.”

Her lawyers say accusations about the Chinese government’s involvement were “sufficiently aggressive” that local law enforcement had to be notified “as a precaution against the potential for personal attacks against her” or Cui.

They also noted reports earlier this month in The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal that China may resort to detaining American scientists in that country as hostages to try and force the release of Chinese researchers in American custody.

“The Wall Street Journal story singled out and referred directly to Dr. Tang as one case which has given rise to those threats, causing her counsel to have to affirmatively state that the defense has no connection to the Chinese government,” Segal and Johnson wrote. “No one can reasonably dispute the fact that an assertion in such prominent newspapers to the effect that the Chinese government is willing to take American citizens as hostages for Dr. Tang’s return, even though apparently denied by those authorities, will increase animosity to her by various individuals and create a risk to her safety and that of others associated with the defense.”

They added that Chinese language posts on social media about the case “have contained explicitly violent threats.”

Since 2018, the Trump administration has launched dozens of cases involving Chinese researchers at prominent American universities suspected of trade secret theft, economic espionage and computer hacking.

The Justice Department says China is making a concerted effort to have researchers take American research and technology developments back to that country, and in July the State Department ordered the closure of the Chinese consulate in Houston because it was believed to be engaged in espionage activities.

Tang came to the United States late last year to conduct cancer research at UC Davis, but the COVID-19 pandemic shut down her lab before she could begin any serious study.

While she was living in an apartment in Davis in June, FBI agents questioned her about statements she made on her visa application indicating she had no ties to China’s military or Communist Party.

The agents seized her passport and after they left, she fled to the Chinese consulate in San Francisco, where authorities were unable to arrest her, prosecutors say.

She left the consulate after about three weeks and was arrested by FBI agents July 23 as she was heading to a doctor’s visit.

Tang, 37, was held in the jail in Sacramento jail until her release in September over the strenuous objections of federal prosecutors who noted that she has no ties to the United States and may flee to China.

Her attorneys argued that she is a prominent scientist who faces no more than six months in custody if found guilty of the charges she faces and has no reason to violate the terms of her release, which include electronic monitoring.

But concerns for her safety led to them to ask for a hearing in November on the request that Tang be allowed to move to a nearby apartment and remain under Cui’s supervision.

“A suitable apartment has already been found and is available for inspection by Pretrial Services,” they wrote. “The close proximity of the apartment will assure that (Cui) can easily continue to supervise the defendant and ensure her ongoing compliance.

“(Cui) would be able to conduct regular check-ins, document those contacts, and perform any other supervisory responsibilities required by the Court. All other conditions would remain in place, including the property bond and electronic monitoring.”

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©2020 The Sacramento Bee (Sacramento, Calif.)