Human Rights Watch has accused Australian universities of failing to protect the academic freedom of Chinese students who support democracy, and said many of them have altered their behavior and practiced self-censorship to prevent harassment and that has been reported to home authorities.
In a new one report published on Wednesday, HRW said Australian universities, which depend on fees charged by international students, “turned a blind eye to concerns about harassment and surveillance by the Chinese government and its representatives”.
The group said it interviewed 24 pro-democracy students from mainland China and Hong Kong, and verified three cases in which Chinese police visited or asked to meet with their families about student activities in Australia.
In one case, Chinese authorities threatened a student with jail after opening a Twitter account while studying in Australia and posting pro-democracy messages.
The student told HRW that mainland China police “contacted my parents … and issued an official notice and told me to ‘shut up the bastard.'”
“They said I had to shut down my Twitter, stop spreading anti-government messages, and if I didn’t cooperate, they could charge me with a crime,” the student said. “I deleted my Twitter account. Because I’m worried about my parents. “
HRW also said that pro-Beijing students in Australia harass and intimidate those who express their support for democratic movements. One student reported receiving a threatening message from a classmate after attending a pro-democracy rally in Hong Kong, Australia.
“It was like, ‘I’m looking at you.’ Personally, I was very scared, ‘” he said. “I was in a course with 98% of continental students. .
HRW said all pro-democracy students interviewed expressed fears that their activities in Australia could cause Chinese authorities to punish or interrogate their family at home and said those concerns affected what they said in class, their choice of ‘friends and even their decisions about which classes. or events to attend.
“I have to censor myself,” one continental student said. “This is the reality, I came to Australia and I am not free yet. I never talk about politics here. “
But most of those students did not report the harassment to their university, HRW said, citing the belief that their university would not take the threat seriously or that they feared their university would be sympathetic to pro-Chinese students. -Boy.
According to HRW, bullying was not limited to just students.
The group said pro-Beijing students and social media users have also subjected some academics at Australian universities to harassment, intimidation and disruption (by posting their personal information) if academics are considered to be critical of the Party. Chinese Communist or discuss “sensitive.” issues such as Taiwan, Tibet, Hong Kong or Xinjiang.
In a case last year, pro-Beijing supporters intimidated, harassed and convicted an academic who described Taiwan as a country and spoke out in defense of a Taiwanese student. As a result, HRW said, the Australian university had to temporarily remove the academic profile of the academic from the university’s website.
HRW said academics who come from or specialize in China Studies also reported practicing self-censorship regularly while talking about China. One scholar even reported that a university official told him to offer a “sanitized” version of his Chinese study unit.
“When all of our teaching went online, I received an email from the IT leadership saying they had set up a VPN [virtual private network] in China, there was some concern about the content of teaching, “he told HRW.” Another scholar, who also taught another unit of Chinese Studies, had offered a “sanitized” version of this course for students. RPC students. Is that something I would be willing to consider for my course? I said, ‘No, I’m not willing to do that.’ “
All of this, HRW said, was taking place in the context of a Chinese government effort to undermine academic freedom globally. He said the Chinese government has intensified in recent years by trying to control Chinese students abroad and censoring academic discussions and academic research.
Australian universities, where about 40% of all international students come from China, need to do more to address the actions of the Chinese government, said Sophie McNeill, an Australian HRW researcher.
“Administrators at Australian universities are failing in their duty to protect to defend the rights of students in China,” he said. “Australian universities rely on the fees charged by international students, while turning a blind eye to concerns about harassment and surveillance by the Chinese government and its representatives. Universities should demonstrate and take concrete measures to support the academic freedom of these students and staff.