Home » Chinese and Hong Kong students at British universities silenced by Beijing

Chinese and Hong Kong students at British universities silenced by Beijing

Hong Kong and Chinese students at British universities are being secretly photographed and filmed as part of a global pattern of harassment and intimidation by Beijing, according to Amnesty International.

In a new 63-page report released by the human rights group on Monday, students describe being followed at protests in their host cities, with many revealing that their families back home have also been threatened by police in connection with their activism overseas.

Amnesty carried out in-depth interviews with 32 Chinese students, including 12 from Hong Kong, studying at universities in eight countries – the UK, Belgium, France, Germany, the Netherlands, Switzerland, Canada and the United States.

Virtually all said they self-censored their social interactions, and more than half their online activity, fearing retaliation and surveillance by the Chinese authorities.

One student in the UK described noticing individuals appearing to monitor several protests that she attended: “Every time, there is someone [we] don’t know filming. Standing to the side, using their phones and recording,” she said.

She added that the age, appearance or demeanour of the individuals stood out as unusual, leading her to believe they might have been affiliated to the Chinese government.

Secretly photographed

Another Chinese student who held up a sign in support of Hong Kong protesters was secretly photographed at Edinburgh airport the next day and targeted with death threats on Chinese social media platform Weibo, contributing to the fear that students can be easily identified and targeted.

Amnesty reports that students’ families in China also face intimidation and threats, including the revoking of their passports or being fired from their jobs if their student children criticise the government while overseas.

Rowan, whose name and university have been kept anonymous, 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 was particularly alarmed that she had not shared her real name with anyone involved in the protest or posted about it online, but was still identified by the authorities, who had speedily located her father.

“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.

‘China’s transnational repression’

There are an estimated 900,000 Chinese students studying abroad, and Amnesty has called on host governments and universities to do more to protect their rights.

“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,” said Ms Brooks.

The Chinese embassy in the UK was contacted for comment.