China’s long arm in the Netherlands has made the news on several occasions. Members of Chinese student associations in the Netherlands check whether other members are too critical of their home country. In 2021, RTL Nieuws and Follow the Money revealed the existence of illegal Chinese ‘police stations’ in Rotterdam and Amsterdam.

Eight countries

Last year was the first time Amnesty International conducted an investigation in eight countries into the ways in which Chinese students are confronted with their home country’s censorship. The human rights organisation interviewed 34 students and recent graduates from China and Hong Kong who are living in the United States, Canada, Belgium, Germany, France, Switzerland, the United Kingdom and the Netherlands.

They tell Amnesty that they are being followed online, both by the regime and by their fellow students. One in three students also says their family was approached by Chinese authorities. This involves threats of dismissal or of revoking passports or PhDs if the students express criticism.

Qian Huang Promotie 1022-009 – Levien Willemse

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Self-censorship

When they’re online or talking to each other, students apply self-censorship to avoid getting into trouble. A Chinese student in the Netherlands tells Amnesty she was repeatedly threatened by a Chinese classmate. In class, she was told that she “should have more respect for her home country”, otherwise there would be “repercussions”.

“The testimonies gathered in this report paint a chilling picture of how the Chinese and Hong Kong governments seek to silence students even when they are thousands of miles from home, leaving many students living in fear”, says Sarah Brooks of Amnesty International in a press release.

Amnesty estimates some 900 thousand Chinese students are studying abroad. The organisation calls on universities to do more to protect academic freedom and support Chinese students in case of ‘transnational repression’.

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