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Chinese students in Australia are threatened by Beijing

SYDNEY (AP) — The Chinese government and its supporters have monitored, harassed and intimidated Chinese pro-democracy students living in Australia. And Australian universities have failed to protect students’ academic freedoms. Human Rights Watch said in a report published Wednesday.

fear caused by intimidation This includes classmates reporting student activities to Chinese officials. It has intensified in recent years, according to reports, in fear of retaliation against their families in China. Many Chinese students and academics in Australia censor their behavior. Even though it is thousands of kilometers from Beijing

Sophie McNeil, Australian Human Rights Watch researcher. and the authors of the report said “It̵

7;s really sad. that these students are alone and risk that they are far from home and feel that there is a lack of protection from universities.” Really afraid of backlash from Beijing So instead of discussing these issues openly, therefore they were overlooked. But we think they can’t be anymore.”

In three cases, the police in China visited or asked to meet with the students’ families because of the student’s activities in Australia. It is based on interviews with 24 pro-democracy students from mainland China and Hong Kong. and 22 academics at Australian universities. Chinese authorities have threatened to jail a student who posted pro-democracy messages on Twitter in Australia and seize another’s passport demonstrating pro-democracy in front of his classmates in Australia. Human Rights Watch said

These cases have caused particular panic among Chinese students across Australia, McNeill said.

“These families are one-child families. And they will love the freedoms in Australia profoundly that other young people love,” McNeil said, “but they can’t. because they are afraid of what will happen to their parents.”

All students interviewed by the group said they feared their actions in Australia might prompt Chinese officials to punish or question their families in China. As a result, most people censor their own words and activities in Australia. More than half of the academics interviewed Both from China or studying in China, they say they regularly censor themselves when it comes to China.

“This is the truth,” a student told Human Rights Watch. “I came to Australia but I was not available.”

This issue is financially and diplomatic sensitive for Australian universities. It is supported by the government to build partnerships with China and generate billions of dollars in the process.

International education is one of Australia’s top exports. By donating A$40 billion ($30 billion) to the country’s economy in 2019 before the COVID-19 outbreak, more than 40 percent of international students in Australia came from China as of 2019, the Center for Independent reports. Studies, an Australian thinker’s organization

But Australia’s decision to close its borders in March 2020 in response to the pandemic has prevented international students from entering the country. As a result, the university lost A$1.8 billion ($1.4 billion) in revenue last year and is expected to lose another A$2 billion ($1.5 billion) this year, according to Universities Australia, a group of universities. domestic Recently announced pilot projects This will allow some international students to begin returning to Australia later this year.

The issue of foreign interference is particularly tricky for Beijing. In 2018, Australia passed a law viewed as a way to prevent Chinese interference in politics, universities and other institutions. of Australia secretly The law has infuriated China and has sparked growing tensions between countries.

Most of the students who were harassed told Human Rights Watch that they did not report the incident to their universities because they believed the school was more focused on maintaining ties with Beijing.

Universities Australia’s chief executive, Catriona Jackson, said the report was both sane and unsurprising. She urged Chinese students and staff to report harassment to their universities.

Jackson denied that universities Did not ignore Chinese intervention. And it said they are actively working to combat the issue by working with security agencies as part of the government’s University Foreign Intervention Task Force established in 2019.

“Free discussion an open inquiry The race of ideas is at the center of everything Australian universities do,” Jackson said. “Why don’t we support what defines us?”

More publicity about the threat can help deter it, McNeill said. Human Rights Watch urged the government to publish an annual report documenting the harassment and censorship of international students. and establish mechanisms for students to report any intimidation, censorship or retaliation. related to foreign governments The group also encouraged universities to report such incidents to law enforcement.

Federal Education Minister Alan Tudge said he was considering the report’s recommendations and sought advice from the Joint Intelligence and Security Committee of Congress. It is conducting an investigation into national security risks affecting higher education.

“There are deeply relevant issues in this report,” Tudge said in a statement. “Any intervention on our campuses by foreign authorities is unacceptable.”

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