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US charges China student with stalking peer who put up pro-democracy fliers

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    40 minutes ago

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Image source, Reuters

An overseas Chinese student in the US has been charged with stalking and threatening another Chinese student who took part in pro-democracy activism on their campus.

US prosecutors say Xiaolei Wu, 25, sent threats to the girl and also reported her family to authorities in China.

The Berklee College of Music student was arrested in Boston on Wednesday.

He is alleged to have targeted the girl after she put up fliers calling for greater political freedom in China.

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She had put up the posters at the music college in late October during a wave of activism among Chinese people abroad. They had read: “Stand with Chinese People”; “We Want Freedom”; and “We Want Democracy”.

Shortly after, Mr Wu tried to track down the student in a college WeChat group which had over 300 students.

  • Warning: Contains language some readers may find offensive

He demanded that she take the fliers down and threatened violence if she didn’t comply.

According to court documents he also sent messages via Instagram and other platforms. One read: “Post more, I will chop your bastard hands off.”

He also said he had reported her actions to a “tip-off line” in China, and that the public security agency in the country would “greet” her family, prosecutors said.

He is further alleged to have sought out the girl’s home address in the WeChat group, and posted her email address encouraging others to send her abuse.

The US Justice Department said Mr Wu’s actions were “an attempt to silence and intimidate the activist’s expressed views dissenting of the PRC”.

“Freedom of speech is a constitutional right here in the United States and we will protect and defend it at all costs,” said US Attorney Rachael Rollins.

The FBI also alleged Mr Wu had reported his target to Chinese authorities so they would launch an investigation into her and her family.

“This alleged conduct is incredibly disturbing and goes completely against our country’s democratic values,” said FBI special agent Joseph Bonavolonta.

Berklee music college meanwhile said the described behaviour was “troubling”.

The charge of stalking carries a sentence of up to five years in prison, three years of supervised release and a fine of up to $250,000 (£202,000), according to the US justice department.

Incidents of overseas Chinese students threatening or monitoring the activities of their compatriots at universities in the West have been reported in recent years. This has led to reports of self-censorship and even violent scuffles on campus.

Rights groups and others have also raised concerns in recent years about an increased surveillance of Chinese citizens overseas who are critical of the Chinese government.

The target of Mr Wu’s alleged harassment put up her posters on the campus on 22 October – just a week after the “Bridge Man” protests in Beijing, where an unidentified man strung banners off a bridge in the capital criticising China’s leader Xi Jinping and the country’s zero-Covid policy.

He was swiftly detained by Chinese police, and reports of his protest immediately censored. However his action galvanised a wave of similar protests – particularly among young Chinese people outside of the country.

While the bridge protester’s lone political protest was unusual, it presaged a wave of demonstrations against China’s zero-Covid policy just a month later. China has since ended many of its zero-Covid restrictions.

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