Ex-EAI staff alleges collusion between former NUS East Asian Institute director and his successor to silence her sexual harassment complaint

Following the decision of a victim of a former director of the National University of Singapore (NUS)’s East Asian Institute (EAI)’s sexual harassment to break her silence on the circumstances surrounding her case, another individual has chosen to speak up on her ordeal.

The victim, a former EAI staff member who identified herself as Tseng, said in a statement sent to TOC on Friday (27 November) that both the university and EAI management had “systematically failed” her complaint against Professor Zheng Yongnian’s sexual harassment and power abuse.

She said that she was prevented by EAI from going back to her office and was “subsequently fired without explanation as a revenge” as a result of her complaint to the university and her police report.

In a media report detailing Prof Zheng’s denial of the sexual harassment allegations against him, the former EAI director accused Dr Tseng of sexual harassment against male colleagues and sending “pornographic emails” to him.

Prof Zheng also claimed that Dr Tseng was “warned” and prohibited by the EAI’s current director Bart Hofman from coming to the office after she was accused of harassing a fellow female researcher from Taiwan.

The new EAI director, according to Prof Zheng, had reportedly told Dr Tseng to “work at home instead of coming to the office”.

“After her contract expired, the East Asia Institute ended her contract with the East Asia Institute,” Prof Zheng added.

Dr Tseng in her statement on Friday, however, pointed out that the recent findings by the COI on the allegations against Prof Zheng highlighted that Prof Zheng was forbidden to contact any EAI staff after he was found to have harassed Charlotte — a previous victim who sent a statement to TOC.

“In this context, how could it be possible for Zheng to know the details that Hofman knew and used to evict me?” Dr Tseng questioned.

She further prompted: “Why did Hofman inform Zheng about my eviction from EAI, in a manner covering such comprehensive details?”

“Zheng had known about the context and detail of my eviction, more than myself!” Dr Tseng said.

Dr Tseng posited that it is evident that Prof Hofman “has been working under Zheng’s instructions” by preventing her from going to the office while clearly acknowledging her complaint.

Prof Hofman, she alleged, had “picked a false allegation” to evict her from the office to help Prof Zheng get rid of her complaint — yet, she said, the former did not even disclose the details of the accusation made against her.

Further, she was notified by NUS Deputy President Cheng Tsuhan on 31 August that the EAI had approved her supposed application to work from home “since 20 March 2020” to “avoid further straining their relationships”, and not because of safe distancing requirements during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Source: Tseng, via email

Similar to Ms Charlotte’s case, Dr Tseng alleged that Prof Zheng had utilised fabricated stories and disinformation to mislead people regarding her situation, which have spread to the public in the form of “voluminous online posts” carrying “unfounded allegations” against her.

“Sexual harassment, defamation and slander are all tactics employed by Zheng during his EAI Directorship to serve his personal interests, which had been prioritised to EAI interests,” Dr Tseng added.

Those who did not have shared interests with Prof Zheng and “did not follow his orders that fell beyond our EAI duty”, she said, “would be bullied by defamation and slandering language, in both professional fields and personal characters”.

“For past months, these reproachful languages are causing serious mental damages (sic) on me, as I feel I have been haunted by these humiliating words all the time,” she lamented.

Dr Tseng said that she has “no doubt” that the EAI had denied victims’ requests to investigate Prof Zheng’s alleged concerted defamation efforts against victims of his sexual harassment.

“How could one beg Mr Hofman to investigate his cohort?” She said.

Prof Zheng “continuously made up and circulated defamatory posts to discredit, attack and humiliate” with help of “close aides, overseas media partners and business partners”: EAI staff member Charlotte

Previously on Monday, current EAI staff member Ms Charlotte said in a statement sent to TOC that while she appreciates the efforts of the Singapore Police Force and NUS in investigating her complaint against Professor Zheng Yongnian, she was forced to deal with “deep disappointment, agony and even the pressure from many sides” to remain silent.

Ms Charlotte alleged that from the start of the police investigations last year, Prof Zheng had “continuously made up and circulated defamatory posts to discredit, attack and humiliate” her with the “help of his close aides, overseas media partners and business partners”.

“Among them are not only distorted facts and slanders from someone claimed as EAI colleagues and insiders, but even my archival information and photos in EAI were leaked out and exposed online,” she said.

Source: Charlotte, via email

Ms Charlotte said that despite repeated complaints to EAI and requests for “investigations and clarifications” on how Prof Zheng was able to obtain such archival information, the institute’s current management had rejected her requests and told her that it has “nothing to do with EAI management”.

Ms Charlotte added that even Prof Zheng himself had engaged in the distortion of facts, including by alleging that she had approached him “by asking to meet his daughter” and that she had “joined his family gathering”.

She clarified that it was Prof Zheng who had invited her to travel with him with the “excuse of his daughter’s visit to Singapore”.

Ms Charlotte added that she has never even visited his house.

Source: Charlotte, via email

Ms Charlotte alleged that Professor Zheng and his allies have been able to “distort facts and misguide public opinion” by cooperating with media partners as illustrated above.

“In fact, during the whole process, I also felt an invisible force covering up the predator and continuously persecute (sic) victims to keep silent, thus indulging the predator to be more emboldening (sic) and ruthless,” she added.

While the entire ordeal of being silenced has left her traumatised, Ms Charlotte said that she has “never regretted” making a police report against Prof Zheng.

She strongly believes that harassers can only be punished for their misconduct “when the victims of sexual harassment speak out bravely”.

Ms Charlotte highlighted that she has reported the aforementioned “cyberbullying to the police and will take necessary legal actions after consulting legal opinions”.

NUS in a statement last Tuesday (17 November) said that it was made aware of allegations against Prof Zhang in May last year and subsequently suspended him.

This entailed him to stay off-campus and to carry out his work from home, pending police and university investigations at the time. He was also prohibited from contacting the subordinate in question as a result of a “No-Contact Order”.

Police then issued a stern warning to Prof Zheng in April this year for outrage of modesty in relation to the case at hand.

The COI appointed a month later determined that at least one of the staff member’s allegations had occurred, The Straits Times reported.

Prof Zheng had admitted to hugging the subordinate without her consent during a work meeting on 30 May 2018 in his office, according to the university.

The university said that it would have issued Prof Zheng a written warning following the COI’s findings. However, the university decided to record the outcome of its internal review in its staff records as Prof Zheng had left NUS.

According to ST, Prof Zheng is understood to have joined the Chinese University of Hong Kong in Shenzhen as the head of its Advanced Institute of Global and Contemporary China Studies.

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