April 13, 2021
Judge Andrew S. Hanen
U.S. District Court
515 Rusk Street
Houston, Texas 77006
Dear Judge Hanen:
The Committee of Concerned Scientists (“CCS”) is an independent organization of scientists, physicians, engineers and scholars devoted to the protection and advancement of human rights and scientific freedom for our colleagues all over the world. For almost 50 years CCS has been helping persecuted scholars overcome injustice and return to their academic work. Over the past few years, it has come to our attention that increasing numbers of U.S. scientists who developed research collaborations with Chinese academic institutions have come under scrutiny by the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
Today, we are writing you to address the current situation of Dr. Zhendong Cheng. Dr. Cheng, a U.S. citizen, has been detained in Federal prison while awaiting trial for the past eight months. We have worked on several cases involving Chinese-American academics and it is incredibly rare (cannot recall a case) where the accused was retained in prison while awaiting, and during, their trial period. Most cases were similar in many ways to Dr. Cheng’s, but the accused was allowed to remain at home while the proceedings were taking place. We were puzzled as to why, in this particular case, Dr. Cheng was denied bail despite the danger to his health from the current pandemic and its prevalence within the prison system. It is our understanding that Dr. Cheng has already contracted COVID while confined, has recovered, but has not fully regained his health.
The pretrial restrictions must be commensurate to the crime, which in the case of Dr. Cheng appears to be the alleged violation of the rules regarding disclosure of complementary sources of funding of his research. We are asking that you reconsider bail for Dr. Cheng. It is our understanding that there are concerns that he may be a flight risk but we also understand that Dr. Cheng no longer has any passport, has property that he is willing to use for collateral, is willing to wear an ankle monitor, will report regularly to pre-trial monitors, among other safety measures to assure his return to court when scheduled. There have been other similar cases and those defendants, in similar situations (including at Harvard and MIT), were freed on bond and appeared in court without flight becoming an issue.
To date, Dr. Cheng has now been confined for over eight months. This has made it difficult for he and his attorneys to work on his case, as many of the documents provided by the government are in Chinese and require his assistance in translation.
We appreciate your willingness to re-evaluate Dr. Cheng’s situation and hope that pre-trial release will be available to him as soon as possible.
Joel L. Lebowitz, Paul H. Plotz, Walter Reich, Eugene M. Chudnovsky, Alexander Greer
Co-Chairs, Committee of Concerned Scientists