Chinese surveillance and censorship found at Australian universities


Image Credit – TOI


A high number of Chinese students at Australian universities have created an environment of self-censorship with lecturers avoiding criticism of Beijing and Chinese students have stayed silent in fear of harassment, according to Human Rights Watch.

Some parents who are there in mainland China had been questioned by Chinese police about the activities of students in Australia and Honk Kong police had questioned a returning student about pro-democracy activities, the group said according to a report released on Wednesday.

The self-censorship has worsened as during the Covid-19 pandemic, universities have adopted online courses with Chinese students joining the class from behind the ‘Great Firewall’ system of China of internet censorship according to the group.

The trend has compromised the academic freedom of all students in the class, according to reports by author Sophie McNeill.

She also said that it erodes the academic freedom of Australia.

An online course also removed references to the bloody Tiananmen Square crackdown in 1989 in one example, she said.

Universities Australia, a peak body for the sector has responded to the report and said that universities are committed to academic freedom and urged any student or staff member to go straight to their university if they are being intimidated or coerced.

Alan Tudge, the education minister of Australia has said that the reports raised deeply concerning issues and the government would take advice from a parliamentary committee on security and intelligence.

He also said in a statement that any interference on their campuses by any foreign entities will be tolerated by the authorities.

Speaking in response to the report, the Chinese embassy in Canberra has said that Human Rights Watch has decayed into a political tool for the West to attack and smear developing countries. It is always biased on China.

40% of the students in Australia were from China before the Covid-19 pandemic or it constitutes about 10% of all university students. Almost a third of the revenue from the university sector was generated from international student fees.

Human Rights Watch has interviewed 24 students with ‘pro-democracy views attending Australian universities of whom 11 were from mainland China and 13 from Hong Kong. It has also interviewed 22 academics.

Three cases were verified by the rights group where the family in China had been warned by police over a student’s activity in Australia.

Referring to the Chinese Communist Party, a student who has not been identified in the reports told Human Rights Watch that if they protest against CCP abroad, they will found people you love to make you pay, even if they are in Australia.

The student who has said that he has posted anti-government material on Twitter said that the Chinese police had issued his parents with an official warning last year.

A student from Hong Kong has filed a report with Australian police after four men in masks and speaking in Mandarin appeared outside his house and chased him with sticks in hand.