Wang Jingyou was living in Turkey last year when he found the 7,000 kilometers (4,350 miles) between him and his homeland was no obstacle for an offended Chinese state.
Wang had left China after expressing his support on TikTok for Hong Kong’s democracy protests, but after he questioned the outcome of an Indo-Chinese border clash on social media in February 2021, mainland authorities swung into action. .
Within half an hour of the posting, police from her hometown of Chongqing had visited her parents. Then they detained them.
They said Wang, who is in his 20s, had “slandered and belittled heroes” while “seeking quarrels”, two charges that in China are often used to silence government critics.
“I’m not in China, I’m in Europe,” Wang told Al Jazeera. “I just said something. I did nothing and they put my (name) on a wanted (list) on the government website, in the official media, as well as in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
Wang soon found himself on a months-long stalking journey that saw him arrested as he drove through Dubai in April 2021 and threatened with deportation to China – which he narrowly avoided when his story became an international news. Wang and his fiancée traveled through several countries before finally seeking asylum in the Netherlands, but not before China canceled their passports.
“We are in the Netherlands, but they also have so many ways to find us,” Wang said, alleging that even with a Dutch phone number, he continues to receive threatening text messages and phone calls.
Wang’s story may seem dramatic, but it is far from extraordinary in Xi Jinping’s China, according to human rights watchdog Safeguard Defenders, which released a new report on the widespread practice on Tuesday. “involuntary returns” to the country. Such pressure has been exerted on more than 10,000 suspected Chinese ‘fugitives’ who since 2014 have been forced to return from overseas to face detention or prosecution for alleged corruption and other crimes, the report says. citing official data.
Methods to “encourage” the return can vary from harassment and coercion of friends and family online, to approaching a citizen abroad through Chinese or national security agents, and more “irregular” methods like state-sponsored kidnapping, Safeguard Defenders said. In some cases, authorities may freeze family assets or even threaten to remove children from families.
“I wrote something”
Abductions usually occur in countries with a close relationship to China, such as Thailand or Myanmar, but Safeguard Defenders said up to 10 people may have been abducted from Australia’s large Chinese diaspora in recent years.
The list also includes the 2015 disappearance of five staff members associated with a Hong Kong bookstore specializing in books banned in China. A bookseller, Gui Minhai, disappeared in Thailand while the others disappeared while traveling in China, only to come out in Chinese custody.
China has also used Interpol’s “red notices”, which flag a citizen to police and immigration agencies around the world so they can be sent home, where they face a 99% conviction rate. ‘He is being sued,’ the watchdog said.
‘Involuntary returns’ have become increasingly common since China launched an ambitious anti-corruption campaign in 2012, followed by Operation Foxhunt in 2014 to repatriate Communist Party officials accused of corruption who fled to China. overseas, and the wider Sky Net operation in 2015 to target money laundering.
Although theoretically based on law enforcement, Operation Foxhunt has been described as a “campaign to enforce political loyalty, ward off factionalism within the party, and more generally inculcate party discipline. party,” Safeguard Defenders said in the report.
The two campaigns corresponded to a 700% increase in the number of Chinese seeking asylum abroad between 2012 and 2020, as China’s already limited civil and political rights were further curtailed under President Xi, said the advocacy group.
This number does not include the 88,000 Hong Kongers who applied to resettle in the UK in 2021 under a new immigration scheme, after a national security law was imposed for the Chinese territory. which Amnesty says has “decimated” the freedoms and rights that Beijing had. promised to respect until at least 2047.
More than 175,000 people have been officially recognized as refugees, but that hasn’t stopped the Chinese authorities from orchestrating “involuntary returns”, whether they be government defectors, Falun Gong practitioners, human rights defenders of human rights, political dissidents or even ordinary citizens like Wang who have fallen. against increasingly strict authorities.
Wang says he was just doing what millions of other people do every day: sharing his views on social media.
“We didn’t do anything against China,” he said. “I wrote something. I never thought they (would) start watching me.