REPORT: Beijing Is Harassing, Intimidating Pro-Democracy Chinese Students Abroad

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Dylan Housman Healthcare Reporter
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A new report from Human Rights Watch (HRW) alleges that Chinese authorities are harassing and intimidating Chinese students abroad who express support for democracy.

Chinese Communist Party (CCP) officials have been surveilling students from the Chinese mainland and Hong Kong studying in Australia, according to the report. HRW says it verified multiple cases in which CCP authorities visited the families of students to inquire about their activities in Australia.

“Australian university administrators are failing in their duty of care to uphold the rights of students from China,” HRW Australia researcher Sophie McNeill said. “Australian universities rely on the fees international students bring, while turning a blind eye to concerns about harassment and surveillance by the Chinese government and its proxies. The universities should speak out and take concrete action to support the academic freedom of these students and staff.”

HRW spoke to 24 students and 22 academics at Australian universities. One student was reportedly threatened with jail by the CCP for opening a Twitter account while in Australia and posting pro-democracy messages. (RELATED: Russia, China Agree To Extend 20-Year ‘Treaty Of Friendship’)

All of the students interviewed by HRW claimed they self-censored while in Australia out of fear that the CCP would harass or threaten their families back home in China. McNeill said the students typically don’t report their concerns to their universities because the universities are perceived to care more about maintaining a relationship with China than protecting academic freedom.

Some of the professors interviewed, who are all either from China or study China-related issues, said they were told by university administrators not to participate in certain China-related events or to speak out about certain topics. Pro-Beijing students and activists are said to have doxed and harassed one academic at an Australian university who made pro-Taiwan statements.

One student described being harassed on social media by old classmates still in China, and being called disloyal to the country by fellow students in Australia. (RELATED: Hong Kong Pro-Democracy Paper Sells Out Final Edition)

One professor told a story of a student in their class who gave a presentation on Tibet. Somehow, news of the Tibet presentation given in the Australian class made its way back to the bosses of the student’s parents in China. “There’s no other way for her parents to have learned about that other than a reporting mechanism,” the professor said.

“With new international student arrivals due to start again soon, universities should urgently review their policies and put in place new measures to safeguard the academic freedom of these students and staff,” McNeill said.