SAN FRANCISCO - For Chinese brain researcher Song Chen, a visiting scholar at Stanford University when she was arrested last July on a visa fraud charge, a court hearing last month in San Francisco brought some hope.
US District Judge William Alsup expressed skepticism about the FBI's failure to inform Song of her rights when she was first interrogated, calling its tactics a "gimmick."
He'd previously rejected requests from the prosecution that evidence in her case be kept secret on national security grounds, a decision the US government is appealing.
But Song, who sat tense and teary-eyed through the proceedings, is still a long way from a trial date as the case winds through the courts. She also has been charged with lying to investigators and destroying evidence as part of an alleged effort to conceal ties to the Chinese military.
Song, who works for the Xi Diaoyutai Hospital in Beijing, a military facility, pleaded not guilty to the charges and denies being an active-duty member of China's military. She is currently free on bail.
Her case is one of at least five visa fraud prosecutions of university researchers launched last year as part of the US Department of Justice's "China Initiative," a three-year-old effort aimed at preventing the transfer of US technology to China.
All the Chinese scientists have pleaded not guilty to falsifying visa applications to conceal military ties as well as other charges.
Two of those arrested - Wang Xin, a visiting medical researcher at the University of California San Francisco, and Zhao Kaikai, a PhD student in artificial intelligence at Indiana University Bloomington - are still in jail awaiting trial.
If convicted, the scientists could face a lengthy prison sentence, though lawyers for two of them say it is more likely they would spend a short time in jail, if any time at all, before being sent back to China.
Civil liberties groups including the American Civil Liberties Union and the Asian Law Caucus are increasingly concerned about the visa fraud cases, which they say reflect anti-China bias. Defence lawyers say their clients' real crime is running afoul of US-China politics.
"The government's 'China Initiative' has been framed in dangerous, over-broad terms since its inception, casting widespread suspicion on people of Chinese descent," said Mr Patrick Toomey, a senior staff attorney at the ACLU. "The initiative was supposed to combat the theft of trade secrets, but this case, like so many others, contains no such allegations."
A senior DOJ official said the prosecutions were based on "conduct," not race. When academics are charged with visa fraud, the DOJ isn't necessarily expecting to later find evidence of espionage or theft, the official said on condition of anonymity.
Rather, the official said, the goal is to prevent actions that are "pernicious and ultimately could lead to theft."
China's foreign ministry told reporters in a statement that the visa fraud cases amounted to "political persecution." A total of nearly 300 Chinese students were stopped at US airports for interrogations as they were leaving the country between May and September of last year, the statement added.
The China Initiative was launched under former President Donald Trump, and all five arrests occurred a year ago when US-China relations were at a nadir. President Joe Biden's administration currently has no plans to pull back, the DOJ official said.
'Why him? Why now?'
The Association of American Universities, a lobbying group, says its members understand the need for protection of technology developed at US universities. But they say the government should set clearer vetting policies and standards.
US visa applications specifically ask applicants to state whether they have served in the military and to provide the dates of service. In Song's case, she acknowledged that she had served in the military for about 11 years and she correctly listed the address of the hospital where she was working in the employment field.
Ms Emily Weinstein, a Georgetown University researcher with a focus on China's strategy of merging certain military and civilian functions, said not all workers at a military hospital would be on "active duty."
The National Security Commission on Artificial Intelligence, a government panel convened to advise Congress on high-tech competitiveness, recommended earlier this year more disclosure on research funding and partnerships at universities, and proposed creating a database of individuals and entities to flag risks in advance. Congress is considering the recommendations.
Critics of the "China Initiative" say such measures would assure that better screening takes place during the visa process, rather than after the fact.
Guan Lei, another of the five visa fraud defendants and a computer science student and visiting scholar at the University of California, Los Angeles, was charged with lying about his military affiliations.
Guan's university in China, the National University of Defence Technology in Changsha, has been since 2015 on a US Commerce Department trade black list that includes military-affiliated entities, and his supporters say the US government should have brought up that affiliation as a red flag before issuing the visa.
Guan told the FBI his school in China has "normal" students and soldiers, and that he is not part of the military.
Guan's former lawyer, Mr Bin Li, who took the unusual step of stepping down from the case to help Guan personally, including posting his bail bond, said at least two students from Guan's school who came to UCLA to study with the same professor in prior years and never had any problems.
"Why him? Why now," Mr Li asked.
In some of the cases, apparent efforts at evading federal agents or hiding evidence have added to prosecutors' suspicions.
Tang Juan, a researcher at the University of California, Davis who is one of the five accused Chinese scientists, initially took refuge at the Chinese consulate in San Francisco after being interrogated by FBI agents and was arrested nearly a month later.
A federal judge last week ruled that statements that Tang made to federal agents in their initial interrogation could not be used in court because she was not informed of her right to remain silent. The government has filed a motion contesting that ruling.
JERUSALEM - A police officer who fatally shot an unarmed Palestinian man with autism was charged with manslaughter on Thursday (June 17), in a case that brought attention to the issue of police brutality.
The family of the 31-year-old victim, Eyad Hallaq, expressed frustration that the authorities did not indict the officer on a more severe charge.
Hallaq was shot last year on May 30 during his morning commute to a school for adults with disabilities in Jerusalem's Old City.
His death prompted comparisons to the killing of George Floyd by police officers in Minneapolis days earlier. Hallaq's picture has been raised at many demonstrations in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv over the past year.
Prosecutors filed the indictment after coming under criticism in recent weeks because they still had not charged anyone a year after the killing.
For decades, efforts to rein in violent officers and impose accountability for their actions in Israel have repeatedly failed. The majority of complaints of police violence are never investigated, according to Justice Ministry records. Those that are almost never lead to criminal charges or even disciplinary action.
Prosecutors have said that they face enormous obstacles in pursuing such cases, such as police officers who refuse to incriminate one another and judges who are sympathetic to officers. Many Palestinians don't bother filing complaints, prosecutors say, because they have such little trust in the system.
The officer charged on Thursday, whose full name has not been released publicly, could face up to 12 years in prison if convicted.
A statement by the prosecutors accused him of taking "an unreasonable risk" by opening fire on Hallaq, who they said "performed no action that justified the shooting."
Khairi Hallaq, the victim's father, protested the manslaughter charge as too lenient, calling it "unjust" and "unacceptable."
"I'm angry," he said by telephone. "The officer purposefully killed my son. Why only a maximum of 12 years behind bars? That's insufficient."
Efrat Nahmani Bar, the charged officer's lawyer, called Hallaq's killing "a horrible tragedy." But her client was "absolutely positive he was dealing with a terrorist who was endangering his life," she said.
"He was not operating in a laboratory," she added. "Everything happened very quickly in one of the most dangerous places in the country."
Nahmani Bar also emphasised her client's youth - he was 19 at the time - saying he had finished his basic training just a few weeks earlier.
Hallaq, who lived in small home with his mother, father and sister outside the Old City, aroused the suspicions of police officers on a Saturday morning when he exhibited unspecified "certain characteristics in his behaviour," leading them to fear he was a "terrorist," according to the indictment.
When he did not obey the officers' commands to stop, they ran after him. One of them, a commander who was to leave the force within days, shot twice at Hallaq's legs while pursuing him but missed, the indictment said.
Hallaq turned into an enclosed area, according to witnesses, where he crouched in fear in a corner. Among those looking on was one of the teachers from his school.
The teacher, Warda Abu Hadid, has said that she yelled to the officers that Hallaq had a disability and posed no threat, but the indictment does not mention that.
When the officer now being charged arrived and spotted Hallaq in the corner, he shot him once in the abdomen, the indictment said. After that, his commander shouted at him to cease fire.
One of the officers then asked Hallaq, in Arabic, "Where is the gun?" the indictment said. When he did not answer, the officer asked the teacher the same question, to which she replied, "What gun?" At that point, the officer who was charged fired a second shot at Hallaq, killing him, according to the indictment.
Nitzan Horowitz, a left-wing minister in the newly formed Israeli government, welcomed the decision to charge the officer, calling it "necessary to preserve our moral backbone."
But Ayman Odeh, the leader of an alliance of three Arab-majority parties, blasted the decision, saying the "infuriating and contemptible" charge allows for the "murder of any Palestinian who does not look good in the eye of a police officer or soldier."
Hallaq's father said his wife was still struggling to cope with the loss of her son.
"People say as time passes, you are able to forget things that happened," he said. "But for my wife, as time passes, she only remembers our son more."
TAIPEI (Taiwan News) — Vendors at a night market in Nantou County can receive an interest-free loan of up to NT$30,000 (US$1,079) to help them weather the current COVID-19 outbreak, reports said Thursday (June 17).
The Sandals Pier tourist night market (草鞋墩人文觀光夜市) in the central Taiwanese township of Caotun had been closed for over a month due to measures to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. In earlier times, the market had been the most bustling in the county, receiving up to 30,000 visitors a night.
As Taiwan confirmed 180 new COVID cases on May 15, the Nantou County Government announced a package of emergency measures, including the closure of all night markets.
As the Sandals Pier market operator, Chiang Chin-liang (江欽良) understood that the 350 vendors would not have an income for some time and that not all of them qualified for government aid. Therefore, he decided to offer the interest-free loans.
Within a week, about 40 vendors had applied for money, with repayment expected to start the month after the market started operating again.
TAIPEI (Taiwan News) — Taiwan is set to receive nearly a quarter-million more doses of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine on Friday afternoon (June 18).
According to the Central Epidemic Command Center (CECC), the 240,000 doses of the Moderna vaccine will arrive in Taiwan at 4 p.m. on Friday and the shots will be valid until Dec. 15 of this year. Taiwan has directly purchased 5.05 million doses of the vaccine from Moderna and the first batch of 150,000 arrived on May 28.
The CECC distributed 75,000 doses to be administered to front-line medical workers on June 9. Since the interval between the two Moderna doses is 28 days, the CECC had originally planned to reserve the remaining supply for the second dose.
However, Health Minister and CECC head Chen Shih-chung (陳時中) announced on Wednesday (June 16) that the remaining 73,200 doses will be distributed to various locales starting on Friday for front-line medical workers and airline personnel.
In expediting the vaccination process, Chen indirectly suggested that more shipments of the Moderna shots would be arriving soon. At a press conference on Friday morning, Deputy CECC chief Chen Tsung-yen (陳宗彥) announced that 240,000 more doses of the Moderna vaccine will be arriving by plane at 4 p.m. that afternoon.
Chen said that when this batch of jabs arrives in Taiwan, experts will discuss the appropriate arrangements to establish a list of priority recipients.
TAIPEI (Taiwan News) — Over the past four days, 28 elderly people in eight cities and counties across Taiwan were reported to have died after receiving the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine, but whether there is a direct causal relationship between the vaccinations and the deaths has yet to be determined.
On Tuesday (June 15), Taiwan began inoculating its citizens with 1.24 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine donated by Japan on June 4. The first group prioritized to receive shots was people aged 85 and above.
However, in only four days, there have been more than two dozen cases of elderly vaccine recipients suddenly dying after receiving their first dose of the vaccine. As of 8 a.m. on Friday (June 18), there have 28 such cases reported, with Taichung City reported the most at six deaths.
When questioned about the apparent surge in deaths following inoculations at the Legislative Yuan on Thursday (June 17), Health Minister and Central Epidemic Command Center head Chen Shih-chung (陳時中) said that whether there is a direct causal relationship still remains to be investigated. He then emphasized that "the advantages outweigh the disadvantages" and called on the public to continue to get vaccinated.
As of Friday, health departments in 12 cities and counties have reported sudden deaths following AZ jabs, including three in Taipei City, five in New Taipei City, three in Taoyuan City, two in Hsinchu City, one in Hsinchu County, six in Taichung City, one in Changhua County, two in Yunlin County, one in Chiayi City, one in Tainan City, one in Kaohsiung City, and two in Pingtung County.
The ages of the 28 recipients who were reported dead ranged between 60 and 97. Of these recipients, 14 had long-term chronic illnesses, such as kidney failure, diabetes, high blood pressure, and heart disease, while the health history of the other eight is not yet known.
The recipients experienced coughing, fever, vomiting, a drop in blood pressure, dizziness, nausea, coma, sputum, delirium, shortness of breath, and foaming at the mouth before their deaths. Five patients went into a coma before their vital signs ceased.
In response to the deaths reportedly occurring after receiving AstraZeneca vaccines, CECC Spokesman Chuang Jen-hsiang (莊人祥) on Thursday (June 17) said that according to the Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System (VAERS), 11 deaths following an AstraZeneca jab have been reported in Taiwan, eight of which occurred in persons over the age of 75.
Chuang said the vast majority of the deceased were elderly people who had been suffering from chronic disease. He said that autopsies of two patients showed that one suffered from arterial obstructive cardiovascular disease and acute myocardial infarction, while the other had arteriosclerotic cardiovascular disease, with serious blockages in three arteries.
Chuang stated that based on statistics, it's expected that an average of 200 people over the age of 75 will die every day. In the case of the U.K., there have been 863 deaths reported as having resulted from an adverse reaction to the AstraZeneca vaccine out of 24.5 million doses delivered as of June 2, he pointed out.
He stated that many of what appear to be adverse reactions after injections might be due to the shots or might be related to conditions. "It could just be a coincidence that the adverse event occurred just after vaccination," said Chuang.
He said that the causes of death in these recent cases need to be investigated and clarified. Chuang pledged that the CECC will continue to monitor adverse events following jabs, and he called on the public to rest assured that the vaccines are safe.
Chuang stressed that thus far, there have been no deaths directly attributed to any COVID-19 vaccine in Taiwan.
TAIPEI (Taiwan News) — Miaoli County on Wednesday (June 16) announced that 21 more foreign migrant workers have tested positive for COVID-19.
At a press conference that afternoon, Miaoli County Magistrate Hsu Yao-chang (徐耀昌) said 21 foreign workers at high-tech factories who have been undergoing quarantine in government facilities have tested positive. Of these, 19 are men and two are women.
Hsu stressed that all have been secluded in quarantine centers for eight to 12 days. Therefore, he concluded said that local communities need not worry about transmission from these cases.
As of Wednesday, 490 people have been diagnosed with COVID-19 in Miaoli County, 81 percent of whom are foreign workers. According to the Miaoli County Government, Zhunan Township, where the initial outbreak occurred among migrant workers, has had 318 cases.
Neighboring Toufen City comes in second with 131 cases, followed by Zaqiao Township with 21 and Houlong Township with 10. Among Miaoli County's 18 townships and cities, nine have yet to report a single case of the disease.
TAIPEI (Taiwan News) — Over the past three days, 12 elderly people in eight cities and counties across Taiwan were reported to have died after receiving the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine.
In response to the surge in local COVID-19 cases, Taiwan began to administer the AstraZeneca vaccine on a large scale on June 15. Among the 2.68 million slated to receive this first wave of shots are vulnerable groups such as residents of long-term care facilities, kidney dialysis patients, and people over the age of 75.
However, reports have started to pour in of recipients dying after returning home from their injection. As of Thursday (June 17), health departments in eight cities and counties have reported 12 sudden deaths following AZ jabs, including one in Taipei, three in New Taipei City, one in Hsinchu County, one in Hsinchu City, three in Taichung, one in Changhua County, one in Chiayi City, and one in Kaohsiung.
Whether these deaths are the result of adverse reactions to the vaccine has yet to be confirmed.
Since the launch of public vaccination in June, the Central Epidemic Command Center (CECC) has only officially announced two deaths following AstraZeneca vaccinations. One was in Chiayi City, while the location of the other has not yet been revealed.
The CECC is still investigating whether these two deaths were the result of an adverse reaction to the vaccine. As of June 16, a total of 1.916 million people have received at least one dose nationwide.
Among these, the CECC has reported 133 suspected serious adverse reactions, including the two deaths, eight severe allergic reactions, and 123 other serious adverse events.
The ages of the 12 recipients who were reported dead ranged between 59 and 97. Of these recipients, six had long-term chronic illnesses, three had Alzheimer's disease, and the health history of the other three is not yet known.
TAIPEI (Taiwan News) — A Taiwanese manufacturer is applying to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to produce a COVID-19 home test kit in the country, reports said Wednesday (June 16).
While the first two foreign-made test kits could arrive in Taiwan within a week, about 10 other manufacturers have contacted the FDA, with the list including at least one Taiwanese company, per Radio Taiwan International.
Encouraging members of the public to test themselves at home for the coronavirus is one of the policies currently promoted by the Central Epidemic Command Center.
The FDA said it was embarking on a speedy review process of the applications for the home testing devices in order to help with the campaign against the current COVID surge. While the imported products were expected to arrive soon, they still needed to be labeled in Chinese, with the FDA also asking manufacturers to record instructional videos about the correct usage of their testing kits.
The government has ramped up both testing and vaccinations in order to clamp down on local COVID infections, which fell below the mark of 200 per day over the recent Dragon Boat Festival holiday.
TAIPEI (Taiwan News) — Innolux (群創光電) on Tuesday (June 16) announced its first confirmed COVID-19 case as the number of infections among high-tech factories in Miaoli County continues to swell.
At a press conference on Tuesday, Health Minister and Central Epidemic Command Center head Chen Shih-chung (陳時中) announced 18 new coronavirus cases among tech companies in Miaoli County's Zhunan Science Park. He added that testing will be carried out on 1,425 foreign workers at six factories in the science park considered to be at high risk for cluster infections.
That same day, Innolux, a subsidiary of Foxconn Technology Group, announced that a foreign worker had been tested on Monday (June 14) after seeking medical treatment. They were diagnosed with COVID-19 Tuesday and placed in a quarantine dormitory.
The health department has identified six close contacts of the case and placed them in a quarantine center, where they will stay for 14 days. The company pledged to strengthen its medical and mental healthcare services for employees who have been diagnosed with the disease.
The firm claimed the infection will not affect its operations and vowed to actively cooperate with the government and comply with laws and regulations. The company said it is protecting the personal information of the patient and that the details that have been released are based on publicly available government information.
As a precaution, the firm stated that it will administer PCR tests on the case's contacts and residents of the dormitory the patient had been staying in. Innolux stated that it will monitor the health status of the workers in quarantine and ensure that their daily needs are provided for.
The company emphasized that it has upgraded its epidemic prevention measures throughout the plant. In addition to the originally scheduled disinfection measures, it has strengthened the disinfection of work areas, public areas, dormitories, and other spots frequented by workers to reduce the risk of transmission.
Other epidemic prevention measures it has implemented include working from home, reducing the size of teams, reducing group meetings, prohibiting unnecessary movement in the factory, restricting business trips, and providing "safe meals" to ensure the health and safety of employees.
TAIPEI (Taiwan News) — An employee of a farmers' association died in Chiayi County Tuesday morning (June 15) after falling into a silo and being buried under grain.
The Chiayi County Fire Bureau said that it received a report at 9:04 a.m. that someone had been engulfed by grain in a silo at the Yizhu Township Farmers’ Association. When firefighters arrived at the scene, they found the spot where the man, who was in his 30s, had been buried. A rescuer said only part of the man's face was visible and that he had lost consciousness.
Firefighters and association personal had to use a forklift to pierce the silo in order to get the man out. Once they pulled him out, they found that he was not breathing and did not have a pulse.
He was sent to the Liouying branch of Chi Mei Medical Center, where he was pronounced dead.
The farmers’ association said that the deceased was a staff member. Police are investigating the cause of the accident.
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