After being falsely accused of espionage for China, professor wins appeal to sue the government

A Temple University professor, Xiaoxing Xi, who was falsely accused of spying for China, will be able to bring a lawsuit against the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI).

On Wednesday, a judge at a federal appeals court gave a verdict in favor of Xi, permitting the physicist to move ahead with his case against the U.S. government for illegal prosecution and denying his family’s constitutional rights by engaging in unlawful search, seizure and surveillance.

The decision comes after FBI agents raided Xi’s Philadelphia home in 2015, rounded up his family at gunpoint, and arrested him on allegations of fraud related to economic espionage, before suddenly removing the charges months later.

In an exclusive interview, Xi said, “I’m very, very glad that we can finally put the government under oath to explain why they decided to do what they did, violating our constitutional rights. We finally have an opportunity to hold them accountable.”

The case will now be pushed back to the district court, as the long legal battle continues. Represented partly by the American Civil Liberties Union, Xi attempted to bring a suit against the government in 2017, alleging that FBI officials “made knowingly or recklessly false statements” to support their probe and prosecution. The professor also claimed that his arrest was discriminatory, and that he was targeted merely because of his ethnicity, just like many other scholars of Chinese descent. His case was dismissed by a district court in 2021, but Xi appealed the decision again last year.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation refused to comment on the matter.

The case collapsed four months after Xi’s arrest, but not before the professor was threatened with up to 80 years in prison and a fine of up to $1 million.

With the recent verdict, Xi said he believes that other Asian Americans will become more aware and hold those in power accountable.

“For Chinese, it used to be that people try to keep quiet and just move on with their life and just don’t do anything, don’t say anything. But now I can see that more and more people are willing to speak up,” Xi said. “I hope what I have been doing has, in some way, encouraged people to do that and of course take legal action against the government — that’s another big step on top of speaking up.”

However, the legal battles have had a cost. The physicist described how it took a toll on him mental and emotional health as well as his research.

“The big part is this fear. Having gone through the process, knowing what the government could do to twist nothing into a reason to charge you — That’s just a very significant psychological impact,” he said. “Everything I do, I’ve become extra extra careful.”

In 2022, the Biden administration subsetted the policy, but Xi said many are still not comfortable. According to research by the Committee of 100, more than 50 per cent of scientists of Chinese descent in the U.S. “feel considerable fear and/or anxiety” that they are under government scrutiny.

“As a scientist, you’re facing a lot of risks. Do people really want to take those risks?” he said. “All this has a very negative impact on the scientific community, in particular for Chinese scientists, and it will have a very negative impact on American science.”

Xi also mentioned that the government “should not go without any consequence” for what he and his family have had to suffer.

“That was a very traumatic event, not only to me but it was also a very traumatic event to my family. My two daughters, my wife — everyone reacts to this in their different ways,” Xi said through tears. “We try to go on with our lives, but it’s there.”