Investigations

This activist says she is being tracked and harassed in Australia by Chinese police

Zoo says her father has been questioned repeatedly in relation to her online activity. Source: SBS News

Chinese woman Zoo* is living in Melbourne on a working holiday visa. She says her parents have been taken to the police station in China every week regarding her online activities.

Zoo* says Chinese authorities have been tracking and harassing her parents since late April because of her activities in Australia. 

The activist, who is in her 20s and also goes by the name Dong Wuyuan, runs a Twitter account which mocks Chinese President Xi Jinping.

She has also organised rallies in Melbourne in support of Hong Kong protesters and whistleblower Li Wenliang, the Wuhan doctor who died after first warning of the coronavirus outbreak.

In one video exchange seen by SBS News, a police officer, in the presence of her father, says to Zoo: “Let me tell you, you need to remember you are a citizen of the People's Republic of China".

“You are not in the country, but remember, if China wasn't great and strong, you would have no status, do you understand?"

0:00

The officer later says: “I’m telling you the truth, although you are [in Australia], you are still governed by the law of China, do you understand?” 

In another call seen by SBS News, a second police officer can be heard saying: "You can record this call but let me make it clear to you, what you are putting out on Twitter is absolutely not permitted". 

Zoo, who is in Australia on a temporary working visa, says police in China have been requesting her father to go to the police station on a weekly basis.

“I felt very angry and very worried about my safety here and my parents’ safety,” she tells SBS News. 

“I don't know how they were able to find me.”

Zoo has organised rallies in support of whistleblower Li Wenliang.
Zoo has organised rallies in support of whistleblower Li Wenliang.
Supplied

Zoo is warned by police against insulting President Xi and repeatedly ask her to hand over her Twitter password to them.

At one point, she denies the Twitter account is hers.

She tells SBS News she will not be silenced.

“Of course, I worry about my parents, they are my parents at the end of the day, I worry immensely, but I cannot just stay quiet and I hope that more young people from the mainland will also speak up."

Zoo is originally from the city of Heifei in Anhui Province and an only child. Her father worked as a professor teaching Communist Party theory at university.

She says she had a fiercely patriotic education in China which included it being drilled into students that Taiwan was an inseparable part of China.

Zoo was born and grew up in Southern China.
Zoo grew up in Southern China.
SBS News

Using a VPN to access websites which are illegal in China, Zoo says she learned about events such as the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre, which led to her growing disillusionment with the Chinese government.

“My friends and I used to write articles on online platforms but if I post something which is sensitive it will be deleted and I saw people around me getting scared, and self-censor," she says. 

“I saw some of the videos from the Tiananmen Square massacre for the first time and I just felt it was so completely different to what we were taught in school.”

That desire, plus her lobbying of LGBTIQ+ issues while she was at university in China, has led to an increasingly fractious relationship with her parents.

They have pleaded with her not to do anything against Chinese law. 

“It is very complicated because I love them and maybe they love me, but my activism, they are very angry and say I am brainwashed by foreign hostile forces," Zoo says. 

“My dad has said to me that when I go back home, I should turn myself into to authorities because I am a criminal.

“But I believe they are really the ones that have been brainwashed by the regime, and in the end, I blame what the Chinese government has created, this control and dictatorship is really the reason our relationship has been ripped apart.”

Sophie Richardson, the China director at Human Rights Watch, says Zoo’s experience with the police is one which is unsurprising.

“China has devoted considerable resources in recent years tracking people not only inside the country but outside as well."

“Typically, the behaviour is directed at people who have been publicly critical of the party or its policies and it usually manifests in threats and harassment.

"The effect is extremely chilling."

In January this year, Chinese student Luo Daiqing, who was studying at the University of Minnesota in the United States, was arrested in China and sentenced to six months in prison for tweets he posted while overseas.

Some of the tweets contained images deemed to be unflattering portrayals of the Chinese president.

Zoo says she has recently received death threats on Twitter and has reported her situation to Victoria Police.

The Chinese embassy in Australia has not responded to a request for comment.

*Not her real name

Would you like to share your story with SBS News? Contact linevlin@protonmail.com (secure email)

Clarification: This article has been updated to clarify two calls were made by two different police officers. 

Stay up to date with SBS NEWS

  • App
  • Subscribe
  • Follow
  • Listen
  • Watch