Human Rights Watch says Chinese students enrolled in Australian universities have been so intimidated by authorities back home they are self-censoring their actions and behaviors.
The organization issued a report Wednesday highlighting incidents of harassment directed at Chinese students, based on interviews with 24 students from mainland China and Hong Kong, who expressed pro-democracy views. They said their pro-Beijing classmates threatened to expose their addresses and other personal information online, a process known as doxxing, or report their activities to the Chinese Embassy.
The report also mentioned three cases where police in China warned family members about a student’s activities in Australia. It also revealed the students were threatened by their pro-Beijing classmates.
Sophie McNeill, the author of the report, said the students curbed their activities out of fear for the well-being of their families back in China. McNeill says the students did not report the incidents to their universities because they believed officials cared more about maintaining their relationships with Beijing.
McNeill also says more than half of 22 academics interviewed for the report say they have become more cautious about what they discuss about China during their lectures.
Human Rights Watch is calling on the Australian government to issue an annual report on incidents of harassment and censorship faced by international students, and for universities to take action against any students who engage in such intimidation.
The Chinese Embassy denounced the report as “rubbish” in a statement issued Wednesday. It said Human Rights Watch “has decayed into a political tool for the West to attack and smear developing countries,” and “is always biased on China.”
Australian Education Minister Alan Tudge says the Human Rights Watch report raised "deeply concerning issues,” and that he was seeking advice from parliament’s powerful intelligence and security committee, which was already investigating national security risks in the higher education sector.
Information from the Associated Press and Reuters was used in this report.