The Chinese regime is aggressively targeting exiles and dissident communities abroad, as it extends its ability to persecute its citizens anywhere in the world, a new report warns.
Kidnappings, assaults, and threats are just some of the tactics used by Beijing to repress overseas-based critics, and religious and ethnic minorities, in a campaign described by advocacy group Freedom House as the “most sophisticated and comprehensive” in the world.
Since 2014, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has been involved in at least 214 cases of physical attacks on its nationals abroad—the largest by far compared to other countries, the group said in its report on transnational repression released on Feb. 4.
“The sheer breadth and global scale of the campaign is unparalleled,” the report said.
In a high-profile case, Chinese agents abducted Gui Minhai, a Hong Kong-based Swedish citizen, in Thailand in 2015, for publishing books critical of the regime’s leaders. Later while in custody, Chinese authorities claimed Gui renounced his Swedish citizenship and reinstated his Chinese citizenship. In early 2020, he was sentenced to 10 years in prison for “illegally providing intelligence overseas.”
Though not all targets face such egregious acts, the report said. Others face surveillance, harassment, and intimidation by Chinese agents or their proxies, in person or online.
These efforts leave “many overseas Chinese and exile minorities feeling that the CCP is watching them and constraining their ability to exercise basic rights even when living in a foreign democracy,” it said.
Targets include Turkic Muslim minorities, Falun Gong practitioners, human rights advocates, and former CCP insiders. All told, millions of Chinese and ethnic minorities in at least 36 countries are affected, the group said.
While this campaign is not new, the CCP has escalated actions in recent years as the regime has added new groups for suppression, particularly the Uyghur community, the report said.
After the regime began detaining Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities en-masse in the far western region of Xinjiang in 2016, the regime ordered Uyghurs with Chinese citizenship around the world to return to China. Many who did not return were detained in countries, including Thailand and Egypt, and unlawfully deported back to China, according to the report.
Chinese police have also forced family members of Uyghur activists overseas to call them on WeChat, a Chinese social media app, to warn against their advocacy.
“These threats create an atmosphere of fear for Uighurs abroad,” the report said.
Overseas Falun Gong practitioners, a spiritual group persecuted by the CCP, also suffer from reprisals by Chinese authorities or their proxies.
Freedom House said members of the group have been subject to “frequent harassment and occasional physical assaults by members of visiting Chinese delegations or pro-Beijing proxies at protests overseas,” including in the United States, Taiwan, the Czech Republic, Brazil, and Argentina.
The report also noted the case of Sun Yi, a Falun Gong practitioner who survived a notorious Chinese labor camp Masanjia. While he was detained, he snuck an SOS letter into a Halloween decoration for export. It was later found by an American woman in 2012. He filmed a documentary with undercover footage detailing his experiences, and escaped to Indonesia.
In 2017, Sun died of sudden kidney failure. His family said Sun never had kidney problems, and the hospital did not give concrete details of his death and rushed to have his body cremated. No autopsy was performed. These circumstances have caused Sun’s supporters to suspect foul play.