Law has to seek truth in US kid­nap case

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - COMMENT -

AUS fed­eral grand jury in­dicted Brendt Chris­tensen on a count of kid­nap­ping on Wed­nes­day in con­nec­tion with the dis­ap­pear­ance of Zhang Yingy­ing, a 26-year-old Chi­nese re­search stu­dent at the Univer­sity of Illi­nois, and who was last seen at its Ur­bana-Cham­paign cam­pus on June 9. Chris­tensen will now for­mally en­ter a plea to the charge at an ar­raign­ment sched­uled for July 20. The penalty for kid­nap­ping is up to life in prison if con­victed. And for many in China, it is an open and shut case.

Surveil­lance video shows Zhang, who was on her way to sign a lease for an apart­ment, climb­ing into a ve­hi­cle that in­ves­ti­ga­tors later iden­ti­fied as Chris­tensen’s car.

A search of the car found the pas­sen­ger’s side had been thor­oughly cleaned.

And a search of Chris­tensen’s cellphone found he had vis­ited a web­site that in­cluded threads on “per­fect ab­duc­tion fan­tasy” and “plan­ning a kid­nap­ping”. How­ever, an in­dict­ment is merely an ac­cu­sa­tion. Al­though peo­ple may have de­cided in their own minds that Chris­tensen is guilty based on the re­ports they have avidly been fol­low­ing, he has not con­fessed to any crime nor has he been proven guilty in a court of law. That means, as the US At­tor­ney’s Of­fice in Ur­bana re­minded peo­ple, the law must pre­sume him in­no­cent.

Since the one-page in­dict­ment on Wed­nes­day did not of­fer any new de­tails be­yond what the FBI and pros­e­cu­tors had al­ready re­vealed in an af­fi­davit and court hear­ings, the where­abouts of Zhang, and whether she is alive or not, re­main un­known.

How­ever, a crim­i­nal com­plaint filed be­fore Chris­tensen was ar­rested on June 30, shows that al­though there have been many re­ported sight­ings of Zhang, law en­force­ment of­fi­cials be­lieve she is dead.

The un­cer­tainty sur­round­ing her fate, and peo­ple’s cling­ing to the hope that she will still be found alive and well, has pro­voked an out­pour­ing of anger among her com­pa­tri­ots di­rected at the in­ves­ti­ga­tors, who have been un­able to de­ter­mine what hap­pened to Zhang after she got into Chris­tensen’s car.

It is to be hoped the in­ves­ti­ga­tion can be pur­sued un­til the mys­tery is solved, not only for the peace of mind of her par­ents, but also to show the law seeks jus­tice for the vic­tims of crimes who are not US cit­i­zens.

Zhang, from Nan­ping in East China’s Fu­jian province, came to the univer­sity in late April as part of a one-year re­search ap­point­ment in the Depart­ment of Nat­u­ral Re­sources and En­vi­ron­men­tal Sciences.

Mean­while, since the United States is home to the largest num­ber of Chi­nese stu­dents study­ing abroad — about 330,000 last year, ac­cord­ing to the US Stu­dent and Ex­change Vis­i­tor Pro­gram — yet many of them are naive to the pos­si­ble dan­gers they may en­counter.

Zhang’s case should prompt the au­thor­i­ties in both coun­tries to en­hance Chi­nese stu­dents’ safety aware­ness when they go to study over­seas.

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