Report: China Calling Dissidents Abroad with Threats Against Loved Ones

HONG KONG, CHINA - JULY 01: Hong Kong Police Guard of Honour raises a Chinese national flag and a Hong Kong flag during a flag raising ceremony at the Golden Bauhinia Square on July 1, 2020 in Hong Kong, China. Hong Kong marks the 23rd anniversary of its handover to …
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Chinese dissidents living in other countries are receiving threatening video phone calls from Chinese police, sometimes with their family members in China visibly held hostage in the background, Vice News claimed in a report this week.

An Australia-based activist who writes under the pseudonym “Horror Zoo” told Vice on Tuesday that the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) was able to determine her real identity in April and began harassing her parents. She eventually received a video phone call, which she passed along to Australian news media, from a policeman who threatened her while sitting next to her father.

“You can record this call, but let me make it clear to you, what you are putting out on Twitter is absolutely not permitted,” the Communist enforcer told Horror Zoo, who objected that she did not write the tweets he was threatening her over, although she has publicly criticized Chinese dictator Xi Jinping in public on many occasions and has organized rallies to support the Hong Kong democracy movement.

“Let me tell you: You need to remember you are a citizen of the People’s Republic of China,” the policeman said. “You are not in the country, but remember, if China wasn’t great and strong, you would have no status … You are still governed by the law of China, do you understand?”

The threatening call included instructions for Horror Zoo to report to the police as soon as she returned to China. Her father is a solid Communist Party man who agrees that she should come home and turn herself in to the authorities.

“I can’t go back. If I go back, I will be in prison,” she said.

She also refuses to stay silent. “I think I should be brave and I should tell the truth to the world,” she said.

Like other activists living overseas, Horror Zoo said the CCP’s campaign of harassment and intimidation ramped up considerably after an online conference on human rights in China and Hong Kong that was held using the Zoom platform last month. 

Zoom notoriously complied with CCP demands to shut down the accounts of several participants, even though they were not located in China. The action was ostensibly taken because online events to commemorate the anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre are illegal under Chinese law. 

Zoom eventually admitted it was wrong to obey China’s commands, but said the solution would be developing better blocking technology so it can selectively censor users who live under authoritarian regimes, preventing them from joining events deemed unacceptable by their rulers.

Conference organizer Zhou Fengsuo — a survivor of Tiananmen Square, U.S. resident since 1995, founder of the Humanitarian China nonprofit, and one of those who lost their Zoom accounts — told Vice he was proud of Horror Zoo for speaking up about “real and pervasive” intimidation by the CCP, which is “holding families hostage against overseas Chinese” and “weaponizing family relationships.”

Zhou warned about the danger of the CCP’s long arm reaching into free countries to strangle dissidents when his Zoom account was suspended in June.

“I’m very angry of course, that even in this country, in the United States … we have to be prepared for this kind of censorship,” he said, noting that LinkedIn also blocked his page at the CCP’s request last year, although it eventually removed the block and claimed the action had been taken in “error.”

Canada’s Globe and Mail reported in May on the growing campaign of “threats, bullying, and harassment” waged against overseas dissidents by the CCP. Amnesty International’s Canadian branch joined other human rights groups in faulting the administration of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau for a timid response that has “almost certainly emboldened” Chinese agents to continue their efforts.

“Consequently, academic freedom and freedom of expression of university students in Canada speaking out on China has been increasingly stifled, as many individuals fear that Chinese government or consular agents are monitoring their speech or their activities,” a report from the human rights coalition warned.

The report said China’s intimidation campaign included harassment on social media, surveillance, and cyberattacks on smartphones and computers owned by dissidents, which could be how the Chinese police learned the true identity of Horror Zoo. The messages sent to dissidents by CCP agents were described as “bullying, racist, bigoted, and frequently involve direct threats of violence, including sexual violence and even death.”

The Globe and Mail quoted a Uyghur-Canadian activist named Mehmet Tohti, who reported precisely the same type of harassment as Horror Zoo experienced: “Chinese public-security officials are making direct phone calls to Uyghur-Canadians here and asking us to be silent or accept the danger our loved ones [in China] could face.”

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