Fear of government retaliation hangs over Chinese students living in Australia, Human Rights Watch says

Human Rights Watch has given evidence to a parliamentary inquiry that Chinese students in Australia are under increasing pressure from authorities in China as well as the broader community.

One example used by Human Rights Watch was the targeting of students who attended Australian rallies in support of Hong Kong's pro-democracy activities.

One example used by Human Rights Watch was the targeting of students who attended Australian rallies in support of Hong Kong's pro-democracy activities. Source: AAP

Human Rights Watch says Chinese international students living in Australia are scared to speak out on politically-sensitive issues because they fear the Chinese government. 

In evidence given to an inquiry into foreign interference in the university sector, the organisation said they had interviewed around 50 students from Hong Kong and mainland China - some of who had experienced harassment and intimidation.

One example used by Human Rights Watch was the targeting of students who attended Australian rallies in support of Hong Kong's pro-democracy activities. 

These students were reportedly targeted by members of the Chinese community in Australia, who threatened to report them to the Chinese consulate. 

Four students told the rights group that their families back in China were visited by authorities, who pressured them to tone down their political activities in Australia.

“A lot of the students we interviewed expressed quite a lot of surprise that they’d come all the way here to only still feel that they lived in a system similar to what they were living in under the CCP [Chinese Communist party] in China,” Human Rights Watch researcher Sophie McNeill told the inquiry.

Yun Jiang is a student at the Australian National University and the managing editor of the China Story blog.

She says she was not surprised by the evidence given by Human Rights Watch to the inquiry.

“The Chinese international students as well as Chinese Australians are under a lot of pressure,” she told SBS News.

“That’s partly because of the deteriorating bi-lateral relationship between China and Australia, you are often seen to be supporting one or the other.

"Many people are under a lot of pressure, because no matter which side you take you will be criticised.”

She said those who criticised China were seen as “race traitors” while those who criticised Australia were seen as “unloyal”.

“Because of that tension, many are choosing to stay silent,” she said.


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Published 12 March 2021 at 4:59pm
By Jarni Blakkarly

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