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Chinese police harass family members of US-based content creators — Radio Free Asia


Chinese authorities are stepping up pressure on the family members of U.S.-based YouTubers and other creative professionals in a bid to censor the content they make on American soil, according to recent video statements and interviews.

“I really never imagined the police would come after me because I migrated along with my entire family,” YouTuber Qiqi, who goes by one name, said in a video posted to her channel on April 25. “But now the police have gone and gotten in touch with relatives on my mother’s side of the family.”

“They couldn’t get a hold of me, so they went after my mother instead, which is the same thing,” she said, adding that the order to find her relatives had come down from the provincial level of government. “I’m not going to say exactly who because the police are probably watching this.”

Qiqi’s video comes amid growing concern over Beijing’s “long-arm” law enforcement targeting overseas activists and students, as well as YouTubers who post content that is critical of the Chinese Communist Party and its leader Xi Jinping.

“They kept calling my mother in the middle of the night, harassing her, calling again and again,” Qiqi said.

She said the police — who want her to shut down her YouTube channel and delete all of her videos — needn’t bother calling any more.

A cyclist prepares to be checked by police officers at a checkpoint near Tiananmen Square in Beijing, June 4, 2020. (Ng Han Guan/AP)

“A big part of the reason I left China was that I wouldn’t be able to speak freely until I got out,” she said. “So why do you think I’ll listen when you try to pursue me overseas?”

Repeated attempts to contact Qiqi online went unanswered by the time of writing.

Common problem

Veteran U.S.-based journalist and YouTuber Wang Jian said the Chinese authorities often pursue and harass Chinese migrants overseas, or put pressure on their relatives back home.

“Actually, it’s not just YouTubers, but journalists, dissidents, human rights lawyers and anyone critical of the Chinese authorities have this problem,” Wang said. “But YouTubers are more likely to get to the critical point where someone [in the Chinese government] feels hurt by what they do.”

He said the aim in contacting people’s relatives was to show them that they aren’t free from possible reprisals, even if they live overseas.

A woman looks at a propaganda cartoon warning local residents about foreign spies, in an alley in Beijing on May 23, 2017. (Greg Baker/AFP)

“[It means] you have a weakness, so be careful what you say,” Wang said. “You can’t express your thoughts freely — the Communist Party has been doing this since it was founded.”

One of the videos police wanted Qiqi to take down was a Jan. 14 upload in which she discussed whether President Xi Jinping really would give the order to invade Taiwan.

Complaints from people operating as part of Beijing’s United Front overseas influence campaign are believed to have been behind the removal of at least two satirical YouTube channels taking aim at Xi in recent years.

‘Drink tea’

Meanwhile, a group of rights activists who are currently making a small-budget satirical film taking aim at the Chinese government in Los Angeles said police back in China have hauled in a number of their family members back home to “drink tea,” a euphemism for questioning or a dressing-down.

Wang Han, who is directing the movie “The Emperor Vs. the Three Evils,” said the police had managed to track down family members of all of the crew.

“The police kept on calling the home of [one actor], telling [his parents] not to let him take part in this,” Wang said. “The police keep trying to contact me as well.”

Wang said freedom of expression should be a universal human right that he and the rest of the crew aren’t willing to let go, however.

“People in China should have the right to express themselves freely, but if we can’t do that in China, then at least we should get to do that in the United States,” he said.

Translated by Luisetta Mudie. Edited by Malcolm Foster.

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