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Momentum grows against 'China Initiative' prosecutor

By LIA ZHU in San Francisco | China Daily Global | Updated: 2022-09-14 10:05

More scientists and organizations in the United States have joined in a nationwide campaign asking President Joe Biden to withdraw the nomination of an assistant US attorney who wrongfully prosecuted a Chinese-born scientist for Chinese espionage.

Casey Arrowood, the lead prosecutor of Anming Hu, a Chinese-born nanotechnology expert at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville, was nominated by Biden in late July to serve as the US attorney for the Eastern District of Tennessee for a term of four years. The Senate Judiciary Committee logged the nomination on Aug 1 and hasn't set a date for a vote.

A coalition of Asian American groups — APA Justice, the Asian American Scholar Forum, the Tennessee Chinese American Alliance, and United Chinese Americans — launched a campaign calling on the White House to withdraw Arrowood's nomination and for the Senate Judiciary Committee to take no action on the nomination until an investigation and a hearing have been completed.

More than 1,700 scientists, researchers, public servants, civil rights advocates and concerned individuals, as well as 36 national, state and local organizations across the country co-signed the letters sent to the White House and the Senate Judiciary Committee on Sept 6, according to the campaign organizers.

In their letters, they said, "The nomination of Mr. Arrowood is an affront to our communities. It opens a new wound when we still need to heal from the targeting and fallout before and during the 'China Initiative.'

"Mr. Arrowood's wrongful prosecution of Professor Hu betrayed the public trust and confidence we all place in our judicial system," they continued. "Mr. Arrowood demonstrated his poor judgment, wasted valuable taxpayers' dollars, failed to uphold justice and fairness, and eroded public trust. His unjust prosecution of Professor Hu, not once but twice, is deplorable and an embarrassment to our nation."

Hu's was the first among a series of similar prosecutions under the now-defunct China Initiative, a controversial program launched by the administration of former president Donald Trump in November 2018 to target researchers with ties to China to combat economic espionage.

Though FBI agent Kujtim Sadiku had admitted to falsely accusing Hu of being a spy for China, Arrowood pressed charges anyway. As the original trial of Hu ended in a mistrial with a deadlocked jury in June 2021, Arrowood pursued a retrial in July, despite calls from academic and civil rights groups to drop the case.

In September 2021, US District Court Judge Thomas Varlan acquitted Hu of all charges, finding the government's evidence would be clearly insufficient to allow a rational jury to convict Hu.

In his letter to Biden on Aug 19, Hu said that although he was reinstated by his university, this wrongful prosecution has significantly damaged his career, life and his family.

The wrongful prosecution has helped create a chilling effect among the Chinese American community, said Hu, adding that two of his PhD students have left for other countries despite being offered postdoctoral research positions in the US.

Four prominent scientists, who are of Chinese descent and have been affected by similar false prosecutions, also sent a joint letter to the White House and the Senate Judiciary Committee last week, opposing Arrowood's nomination.

The four scientists — Gang Chen, an engineering professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology; Qing Wang, a professor at Huazhong University of Science and Technology in China; Ning Xi, a professor of robotics and automation at the University of Hong Kong; and Xiaoxing Xi, a professor of physics at Temple University — were arrested on fraud or espionage charges from 2015 to 2021. All charges were eventually dropped by the government.

"Prosecutorial misconduct ruins the lives of innocent people. We know it from our personal experiences of being falsely prosecuted by the government," the scientists said in their letter.

"Mr. Arrowood should be held accountable for his conduct in Professor Hu's false prosecution, not promoted to a leadership position that will likely cause injustice affecting more innocent citizens and residents," they said.

In a letter to Biden on Sept 3, the Committee of Concerned Scientists said the "numerous missteps" in Hu's prosecution represent "even more serious breaches of laws and regulations than those of which Hu has been accused".

They said they were concerned about how Hu's case was handled by Arrowood, who "failed to halt this wrongful investigation" and asked the president to withdraw the nomination.

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