A Chinese student in the US has been arrested and charged after allegedly harassing another student who posted fliers supporting democracy in China.
Xiaolei Wu, 25, reportedly told the victim that he would “chop your bastard hands off”, among other threatening messages sent via WeChat, email and Instagram. He also allegedly warned the pro-democracy student that he had reported them to the Chinese government and that authorities would “greet” the victim’s family, according to US authorities.
The victim, who was a student at Berklee College of Music in Boston, had posted fliers on campus reading “Stand with Chinese People”, “We Want Freedom” and “We Want Democracy”. Wu, a student at the same institution, has now been charged with stalking and faces up to five years in prison.
Some Chinese students abroad have been speaking out against the Chinese Communist Party in recent weeks in response to protests that took place in China in November – but doing so can be risky due to Chinese surveillance.
John Metz, president of the Athenai Institute, a nonprofit campaigning to remove Chinese government influence from American college campuses, said the incident was “far from unusual”.
“The Chinese government and its proxies… actively sought to recreate characteristics of China’s surveillance state on foreign university campuses,” Metz told The PIE News.
“This puts intense pressure on Chinese students not just to fall in line but also to inform on their fellow students, either because they believe doing so will earn them political points at home, because they wish to avoid suspicion themselves, or because they genuinely believe the party’s propaganda.”
A 2021 report by Human Rights Watch found that Chinese students in Australia self-censored to prevent fellow classmates from reporting on them to authorities back home, with academics and students claiming that the “atmosphere of fear” among Chinese students abroad had worsened in recent years.
Chinese-funded Confucius Institutes have also come under scrutiny in recent years, with bodies in the US, UK and Australia warning that the educational centres risk being used as tools of Chinese surveillance.
“Universities must dismantle the other financial entanglements that so often compromise their ability or willingness to protect their students”
“Ultimately, protecting students who today are often the victims of this exported surveillance apparatus will require universities to deprive the CCP and its proxies of the official recognition that allows them to operate on campus unchecked,” Metz said.
“Entities like CSSAs [Chinese Students and Scholars Associates] — which often report directly to Chinese diplomatic staff and enforce ideological conformity on their campuses — must be stripped of their official student group recognition, Confucius Institutes must be closed, and universities must dismantle the other financial entanglements that so often compromise their ability or willingness to protect their students from a hostile foreign government.”
Speaking about Wu’s case, US attorney Rachael Rollins said, “We will not tolerate threats, harassment or any other repression attempts against those peacefully promoting their ideas, doing their jobs, or expressing their opinions. Freedom of speech is a constitutional right here in the US and we will protect and defend it at all costs.”