US scientist falsely accused of hiding ties to China acquitted

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Anming Hu, a nanotechnology researcher at University of Tennessee, who was falsely accused of hiding ties with China has been finally acquitted after two years of ordeal, Nature reported.

Hu, a Canadian citizen of Chinese descent, had been working in the US for more than four years when the FBI first interviewed him in 2018.

Almost two years later, in February 2020, he was indicted for wire fraud and for making false statements about his affiliation with a Chinese university on research grant applications submitted to NASA, the report said.

“That is the day I lost everything. I worked hard for years, and it happened in a few minutes,” Hu was quoted as saying.

Following Hu’s indictment, the University suspended him, stopped his pay and later fired him after he lost his right to work in the US. He was also put under house arrest.

Hu’s arrest was part of the China Initiative – a US government effort to counter economic espionage. It frequently targeted academic researchers for failing to disclose funds from China or partnerships with Chinese institutions.

Academic researchers and civil-liberties groups had been calling for the initiative to be shut down, arguing that it was racially profiling scientists.

On February 23, this year, the US Department of Justice announced that it was effectively ending the China Initiative, and was replacing it with a broader strategy covering China and several other countries, including Russia and North Korea.

Hu welcomed the end of the initiative, adding that he would like to see the government held to account for its actions.

“I lost two years of my life,” he said. “Who is taking the consequences of that?”

“It is very painful in my heart. The memories are very hard,” Hu said.

Hu was under house arrest for more than a year while awaiting trial. During this time, he relied heavily on his church community to bring him groceries – and even take out his rubbish – because he was not allowed to go outside, he said. With his wife and two of his children in Canada, he felt isolated and missed his family, the report said.

“It made me want to cry every night,” Hu said.

During his ordeal, Hu dived into unpaid work to help to distract him while he awaited trial.

He reviewed around 400 research papers and wrote six research papers of his own, including some on nanojoining – a technology used to link nanometre-sized building blocks to manufacture nanodevices and systems.

He also finished writing a book on laser manufacturing and 3D printing. But he fears that the two-year gap in his laboratory research will be “catastrophic” for his career.

After Hu’s acquittal, UT Knoxville reinstated him as a tenured professor and gave him $300,000 to help to restart his research, the report said.

But Hu says that the university is yet to apologise to him.

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