China: Overseas students face harassment and surveillance in campaign of transnational repression


China: Overseas students face harassment and surveillance in campaign of transnational repression

12 May 2024

  • China-based family members of Chinese students in Europe and North America targeted in retaliation for students’ overseas activism
  • Students face ‘surveillance’ at protests and online
  • Universities urged to combat threats to academic freedom and human rights
Chinese and Hong Kong students studying abroad are living in fear of intimidation, harassment and surveillance as Chinese authorities seek to prevent them from engaging with ‘sensitive’ or political issues while overseas, Amnesty International said in a new report published today. Students based in Europe and North America interviewed for the report, ‘ On my campus, I am afraid’ , described being photographed and followed at protests in their host cities, while many said their families in China had been targeted and threatened by police in connection with the students’ activism overseas. “The testimonies gathered in this report paint a chilling picture of how the Chinese and Hong Kong governments seek to silence students even when they are thousands of miles from home, leaving many students living in fear,” said Sarah Brooks, Amnesty International’s China Director. “The Chinese authorities’ assault on human rights activism is playing out in the corridors and classrooms of the many universities that host Chinese and Hong Kong students. The impact of China’s transnational repression poses a serious threat to the free exchange of ideas that is at the heart of academic freedom, and governments and universities must do more to counter it.” ‘You are being watched’ In the most wide-ranging documentation to date of the Chinese government’s transnational repression at foreign universities, Amnesty International carried out in-depth interviews with 32 Chinese students, including 12 from Hong Kong, studying at universities in eight countries – Belgium, Canada, France, Germany, the Netherlands, Switzerland, the UK and the USA. One student, Rowan*, described how within hours of attending a commemoration of the 1989 Tiananmen Square crackdown, she heard from her father in China, who had been contacted by security officials. He was told to “educate his daughter who is studying overseas not to attend any events that may harm China’s reputation in the world”. Rowan had not shared her real name with anyone involved in the protest or posted online about her own involvement, so she was shocked at the speed with which Chinese officials had identified her as a participant, located her father and used him to warn her against any further dissent. Rowan told Amnesty International that the message was clear: “You are being watched, and though we are on the other side of the planet, we can still reach you.” Surveillance, censorship and targeting family members in China In recent years, many overseas Chinese students have taken part in public criticism of the Chinese government, including around the 2022 “White Paper” protests in mainland China, the 2019 pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong and annual commemorations of the 1989 Tiananmen crackdown in Beijing. Amnesty’s report demonstrates how such activities have drawn the attention of – and often repercussions from – Chinese authorities. The report identifies this phenomenon as transnational repression: government actions to silence, control or deter dissent and criticism by nationals abroad, in violation of their human rights.
china united kingdom france belgium news asia and the pacific censorship and freedom of expression united states of america freedom of association right to education canada germany east asia netherlands switzerland hong kong (china) report press release
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United Kingdom

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