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China Targeting Overseas Chinese and Hong Kong Students

A new report from Amnesty International (AI), which according to AI represents “the most wide-ranging documentation to date of the Chinese government’s transnational repression at foreign universities,” concludes “many Chinese international students attending universities across Western Europe and North America are living in a climate of fear, in which they feel compelled to self-censor and curtail their social and academic activities and relationships or else risk repercussions from the Chinese state.”

The report titled ‘On my campus, I am afraid’ is based on research conducted by Amnesty International between June 2023 and April 2024 and includes in-depth interviews with 32 Chinese students, including 12 from Hong Kong, studying in 8 countries – Belgium, Canada, France, Germany, the Netherlands, Switzerland, the UK and the USA. 

The fear enveloping many overseas Chinese and Hong Kong students is “the result of the Chinese government’s efforts to ensure that the country’s overseas students remain silent and disengaged on political issues that are perceived by the government as sensitive. These efforts include direct interference with students’ lives, such as the censorship, intimidation and harassment of students and their families, as well as the enactment of explicitly extraterritorial repressive laws and the publicly documented prosecution of other individuals for their activism or dissent while abroad.”

“Almost a third of students interviewed by Amnesty said Chinese officials had harassed their families to prevent the students from criticizing the Chinese government or its policies while overseas. Threats made to family members in mainland China included to revoke their passports, get them fired from their jobs, prevent them from receiving promotions and retirement benefits, or even limiting their physical freedom. Chinese police also pressured or instructed students’ China-based family members to cut off financial support to their children to coerce them into silence in at least three cases.”

“Several students told Amnesty that, while abroad, they believed they were under surveillance by Chinese authorities or their agents. Almost half claimed they had been photographed or recorded at events such as protests by individuals they believed were acting on behalf of the state. And although students could not provide conclusive proof of these individuals’ identities, Amnesty’s research documented a pattern of near-identical observations across various locations and settings, supporting students’ beliefs.”

The report concludes “that the Chinese government is violating its obligations to respect the human rights of international students by engaging in transnational repression. It also suggests that host states and universities can and should do more to protect, respect and enable the rights of students in their jurisdictions. Most students interviewed by Amnesty International felt that their host states and universities either were unaware of their concerns related to transnational repression, or were unwilling to respond to students’ concerns.” 

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On my campus, I am afraid