Freedom House: Communist China Targets Dissidents Worldwide

By Debbie Cho | April 3, 2021
Debbie has worked in corporate accounting and holds degrees in the social sciences and financial economics. She writes on topics regarding China and finance which brings together her educational and work interests.
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Members of Falun Gong (Falun Dafa) attend a silent protest outside of the Chinese Consulate on October 15, 2015 in Los Angeles, California. The Chinese Communist Party heavily targets the spiritual practice, which it has persecuted severely since July 20, 1999, in its efforts to pressure and silence overseas dissidents.

A Washington, D.C. think tank recently published a study on the extensive efforts China’s communist dictatorship utilizes to pressure and suppress dissidents and activists residing in countries across the world.

Freedom House released a February report on Beijing’s transnational repression campaign, or the targeting of dissidents overseas. China was featured as the country with the most attacks on dissidents living abroad in an international campaign that targets many groups, using an array of tactics to harass those that are critical of its government. Examples of this campaign have been conducted for decades and its victims span the globe from democratic countries to state with friendly ties to the People’s Republic of China (PRC).

How the CCP targets groups for harassment

The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) targets human rights activists that are vocal about their plight while living under the communist regime. Groups such as Uighurs, Tibetans, Falun Gong practitioners and more recently, Mongolians, are ethnic minority or spiritual groups that face hardships while living in mainland China. Once individuals from these groups flee to other countries, they may not enjoy the full freedoms in a new land ashoped. 

Uighurs are a minority Muslim group residing in the northwestern region of China known as Xinjiang. The CCP’s handling of this ethnic minority has been under intense scrutiny as the Party has implemented reeducation programs that are sites for human rights violations including forced labor and sterilization of women

Although Tibetans are also a minority group, they have been targeted for years because of their cultural ties to the Buddhist spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, who fled Tibet in 1959 and received asylum in India. Uighurs and Tibetans are portrayed as potential separatist groups by the CCP. The Party maintains heavy surveillance on these groups for any activity the regime regards as leading toward independence from China. 

Falun Gong meditation practice founded in the mainland in the 1990s which also has many practitioners worldwide. Because of the qigong practice’s enormous popularity, reaching 100 million practitioners inside China by 1999,, the CCP, under former leader Jiang Zemin, launched a nationwide persecution against Falun Gong on July 20, 1999. The persecution persists to this day.

A display of Falun Gong information in South Korea including the practice and persecution in China
A display of Falun Gong information in South Korea including the practice and persecution in China. (Image: InSapphoWeTrust via Flickr CC By 2.0)

Mongolians have been targeted recently after protests broke out back in August and September of 2020 in the Inner Mongolia region of China over changes to the education system that would have emphasized instruction in Mardarin, diminishing the use of the Mongilian language. 

Protests have been widely covered in Hong Kong, where pro-democracy advocates have been demonstrating over universal suffrage and the National Security Law. The erosion of democracy taking place in Hong Kong as Beijing continues to tighten its grip on the territory has brought international alarm and condemnation. Journalists, human rights defenders, and Chinese nationals who are citizens of overseas countries are also targeted by the CCP for speaking out on topics the Communist Party regards as a threat to its power. 

Hong Kongers can also become targets of CCP harassment if their activism is seen as a threat to the face the Party wants the public to know.

The Party’s intimidation tactics

The CCP uses several methods to intimidate its victims into silence. In cases seen with overseas Uighur Muslims,, they may receive video calls, dubbed ‘Proof of Life’ videos, where family members are featured pleading with the overseas dissidents to stop speaking out about the persecution, alleging their activisim is composed of lies and brings shame upon the family. Many of these videos are obviously staged, with family members forcibly reading scripted materials.

Victims can also be monitored by the use of technology involving hacking social media apps like WeChat to view messages. Technology apps have also been used to target human rights activists. In 2020, three activists had their Zoom accounts deactivated before or immediately following the anniversary of the Tiananmen Square Massacre. 

One of the individuals who had their Zoom accounts deactivated also had problems with another application. Zhou Fengsuo, a student leader during the June 4th Massacre, also had his LinkedIn profile made inaccessible to users in mainland China. After a media outcry, his profile was activated again.

Demonstrators for Tibetan and Uyghur self-determination in front of China's embassy in Washington D.C. in March, 2008
Demonstrators for Tibetan and Uyghur self-determination in front of China’s embassy in Washington D.C. in March, 2008 (Image: via Flickr CC BY 2.0)

Intimidation has also taken the form of physical attacks or in person visits by agents of the CCP. Dr. Bob Fu, a human rights activist and one of the student leaders during the Tiananmen Square Massacre, currently resides in the U.S. and is the President of ChinaAid, an organization that exposes the CCP’s abuses against the Christian community. During a speaking engagement in September 2020, CCP protesters were sent to Fu’s home in Texas to demonstrate while his wife and family were inside. 

Visits from Party-linked groups like these have sometimes become violent in nature, as seen with the attack on the Epoch Times Printing Press in Hong Kong in November 2019. Four masked individuals entered the printing facility, doused gasoline on equipment, and set it ablaze. Although the arsonists have not been formally identified, there is reason to suspect the CCP, as Epoch Times is pro-democracy, supportive of Falun Gong, and critical of the Communist Party.

Detainment and deportation of individuals in countries close to the Chinese government happen to some victims that try to flee from persecution. In the case of Swedish citizen, Gui Minhai, his abduction occured in Thailand. After Gui wrote a book that contained sensitive information about the CCP’s General Secretary, he was kidnapped and sent to China for prosecution and prison.. 

Sometimes monitoring of individuals or groups happens within a country through people linked with jobs that enable close ties with a community. Since June 2018 NYPD police officer, Baimadajei Angwang, spied on the Tibetan community. Angwang, ethnically Tibetan, was caught in September 2020 and exposed as a spy for the CCP.  His handler was a Chinese Consulate official who worked for the United Front Work Department, a propaganda entity of the CCP that works to influence elite individuals and groups in foreign companies and governments.

Governments take action against Beijing’s repression

While some countries have strengthened and developed ties to the CCP, repression of dissidents have expanded. Nepal, a country once known to give safe passage to Tibetans seeking to cross over into India, has changed its policies and is now stopping Tibetans at its border, returning them to China. Other countries have gone the opposite route and are making steps to stop the intimidation and harassment the CCP has put on dissidents living abroad.

In October 2020, the FBI charged eight individuals involved in an, “international campaign to threaten, harass, surveil and intimidate” an unnamed New Jersey resident and his family “in order to force them to return to the People’s Republic of China.” The campaign, named “Operation Fox Hunt,” resulted in the arrests of five individuals. The other three people involved are currently in China.  

In the European Union and the United Kingdom, lawmakers have imposed sanctions against four Chinese officials for their roles in the human rights abuses against Uighurs in the Xinjiang region. The UK has taken steps to shield Uighurs living in the UK against any harassment they experience as a step to protect those that flee to their country for safety.

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