Parents shocked at arrest of student over ‘terrorist threat’
May 25, 2010
XI’AN/WASHINGTON — Zhai Taishan, the father of a Chinese doctoral degree student in New Jersey accused by US police of attempted arson and making threats, flew from Xi’an, Shaanxi province, to Beijing on Monday night, seeking help from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
“I will never believe that my son is a terrorist,” Zhai said.
His son, Zhai Tiantian, studied at the Stevens Institute of Technology in Hoboken, New Jersey, before he was arrested by police on April 16. Police allege he tried to set fire to a campus building after threatening to get revenge on a professor who gave him a low mark.
The indictment statement said the incident was treated as a “terrorist threat.”
Zhai Tiantian, 27, however, denied that he had any plans to commit arson.
The Stevens Institute canceled Zhai Tiantian’s student visa the day he was arrested and the next day the US Immigration and Naturalization Services ordered his arrest. The following day the immigration authorities issued a deportation order for Zhai Tianian.
“Zhai’s behavior over a period of months and involving numerous individuals, was deemed to represent a threat to the well being of others. The suspension has nothing to do with conflict or difference of opinion with academic faculty, as some reports have stated erroneously,” university spokespeople said in a statement to China Daily.
“On April 15, Zhai (Tiantian) was arrested after threatening to burn to the ground a University building. Police determined that the threat was credible and took appropriate action,” said the spokespeople.
They added that the school suspended Zhai Tiantian after a thorough investigation but would not go into detail, saying that “disciplinary actions are confidential and Stevens cannot comment on specific violations”.
Zhai Tiantian is being held in the Hudson County jail in New York state.
He was born in Xi’an and went to study in the US in 2003.
Zhai Tiantian’s mother, Wang Xiaojun, said she received a phone call at her home in Xi’an from one of her son’s schoolmates early on May 10, who told her that her son was in jail.
“My friend was a bit brash in his quarrel with the professor, but he told me that he absolutely did not say anything about setting fire to the school,” said a classmate surnamed Wang.
According to Wang, Zhai Tiantian is a top student who maintains good relations with his fellow students, adding she does not understand how he could be considered a terrorist.
Zhai Taishan said he and Wang could not believe the news after receiving the phone call from the US and we so incredulous that they tried to contact friends in the US to confirm it.
“We felt so disappointed when we got confirmation from a story in the US China Press (a Chinese newspaper published in the US),” Zhai Taishan told China Daily on Monday.
The US China Press reported on May 20 that Zhai Tiantian said something about getting revenge to his professor and the professor later called the campus police. They arrested Zhai Tiantian and turned him over to the New Jersey police. Zhai is reportedly unable to raise the $20,000 bail.
Hai Ming, Zhai Tiantian’s lawyer, told the US China Press that America is a nation with freedom of speech and that people cannot be convicted on the basis of what they think or say.
The case is being mishandled, Hai said.
Zhai Tiantian has two lawyers, a government-appointed one for the criminal charge and Hai to handle the immigration case. The outcome of the criminal case will ultimately determine whether Zhai Tiantian will be sent back to China. If convicted, he might not be allowed to stay in the US.
The lawyer said that before the dispute, Zhai Tiantian expressed dissatisfaction with the institute in a television interview in which he said he wanted to sue the school for racial discrimination.
“This may be the real reason why the school is dealing with him this way,” Hai alleged.
Luo Gang, the overseas Chinese affairs consul with the Chinese Consulate-General in New York, said he has handled similar cases in which Chinese students had verbal clashes with others.
“Chinese and American cultures are different, so what the Chinese regard as acceptable remarks may be deemed by Americans as threats. This is an unfortunate incident,” Luo said.
“The case is in the judicial phase and we can only hope the lawyers will be able to help him,” added Luo.
Zhang Xingfan, vice-president of the Shaanxi Chamber of Commerce in the US, made a phone call to Zhai Taishan on Sunday after learning the news, saying he would be happy to provide assistance to the family.
“We were shocked by the news and will pay attention to the progress of the case. As fellow Shaanxi people, we will offer any possible help to the student,” Zhang said.
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