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Elderly American citizen gets life sentence in China for espionage

A Chinese court has sentenced a 78-year-old American citizen to life in prison on spying charges, CNN reports.  

The Intermediate People's Court in the eastern city of Suzhou convicted John Shing-Wan Leung, also a permanent resident of Hong Kong, of espionage and handed down a life sentence on Monday, per the court's statement. Leung was arrested by state authorities in Suzhou, Jiangsu province, on April 15, 2021, according to the statement, though there were no further details on the nature of his charges. The court also confiscated about 500,000 Yuan ($71,797) worth of his personal property. 

Authorities and state media have not disclosed much about Leung's detention or the court proceedings leading to his sentence. Cases involving spying or "other sensitive political issues are often shrouded in secrecy" in China, The New York Times notes. "Courts are controlled by the ruling Communist Party."

Leung's conviction comes as China ramps up efforts to curtail "what it sees as a growing threat of spies through a wave of raids, inspections, and arrests targeting businesses with foreign ties as well as individuals," the Times adds. In March, a Japanese business executive was arrested for suspected espionage, "the 17th Japanese national to have been detained in China since the counter-espionage law was introduced in 2014," CNN says. 

Last month, China approved amendments to the existing counterespionage law, which will go into effect on July 1. The changes expanded the law's definition of espionage to include any "documents, data, materials or items related to national security and interests." Cyber attacks on government organizations or "critical information infrastructures" are also included, CNN summarizes. Experts say the latest amendments to the sweeping anti-espionage law could criminalize "a range of mundane tasks related to information gathering such as the work of journalists and due diligence research on companies," per the Times.