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US Urged to Investigate Alleged Spying Against Chinese Americans

FILE - Professor Xi Xiaoxing, Chair of Department of Physics at Temple University in Pennsylvania. (Courtesy of Xi Xiaoxing)

Some Congressional members and Asian American groups are calling on the U.S. Justice Department to investigate what they say is a trend of Asian American scientists being suspected of spying for China.

Temple University physics professor Xi Xiaoxing and Sherry Chen, a hydrologist with the National Weather Service, were accused of spying for China. The government later dropped the cases against them.

At a news conference Tuesday on Capitol Hill, Xi and Chen – both naturalized U.S. citizens – told their stories of being arrested by the FBI in front of coworkers and family members. Both said they are innocent and were unfairly targeted because of their race.

The U.S. government accused Xi of scheming to violate a non-disclosure agreement by sharing U.S. company technology with Chinese entities. Xi was arrested on May 21, 2015, and charged with four counts of wire fraud.

Chen was arrested in October 2014. She was accused of downloading sensitive material and providing it to the Chinese government. Although the charges have been dropped, she has not been allowed to return to work.

U.S. must correct mistakes, Chen says

Chen called for the government to admit its mistake.

"If they are wrong, they should correct it,” she said. “There is no reason not to allow me to return to work," she said.

There has been an increase in the number of Chinese Americans accused of spying for China in the last few years.

Peter Zeidenberg, the lawyer for both Xi and Chen, believes it has a lot to do with the cyber issues between the U.S. and China.

"There is tremendous concern in our government about perceived cyberattacks and economic espionage that they attribute to China, and as a result they are under a great deal of pressure to do something," Zeidenberg said.

"When you are under pressure to do things, sometimes you don't take sufficient care, you do due diligence, and you move too quickly,” he said. “You don't move with the appropriate care that you should take before you indict. I think that's what happened with these cases."

U.S. denies allegations of unfairness

Some members of the Congressional Asian Pacific Americans Caucus called on the U.S. Department of Justice to investigate whether Asian Americans are unfairly targeted as spy suspects.

Congressman Ted Lieu, D-Calif., said it appears to be more than a coincidence.

"If it is just one case, that might be a mistake,” he said. “But when it's multiple cases, you now have a pattern. We deserve an explanation from the Department of Justice."

Chairwoman of the Asian Pacific Americans Caucus, Congresswomen Judy Chu, D-Calif., raised the two cases with Attorney General Loretta Lynch, who defended the way investigations are conducted.

“I can state to you unequivocally that the Department of Justice does not focus investigations on any individual on the basis of their race or their national origin," Lynch said.

But she said she could not comment specifically on the cases of Xi and Chen.

Both Xi and Chen said their reputations have been damaged and they have large legal fees to pay. However, they say they still believe in the U.S. legal system and will keep fighting for justice.

Tensions are heightened over allegations that China has been conducting cyberespionage against U.S. government and business computers, a charge rejected by Beijing.

This report was produced in collaboration with the VOA Mandarin service.