The Chinese government maintains surveillance of Chinese mainland and Hong Kong students in Australian universities. Human Rights Watch verified three cases of students whose family in China were visited or were requested to meet with police regarding the student’s activities in Australia. While this number is low (though other cases may not have been reported to Human Rights Watch), the fact this occurs at all is enough to keep thousands of other students on edge and fearful.
Current threats to and limitations on academic freedom at Australian universities stem from China-related pressures and documented cases of harassment, intimidation, and censorship of students and academics from China, and faculty members who criticize the government or express support for democracy movements. These corrosive dynamics set in motion considerable self-censorship.
Students said the fear of fellow students reporting on them to the Chinese consulate or embassy and the potential impact on loved ones in China led to stress, anxiety, and affected their daily activities. Fear that what they did in Australia could result in Chinese authorities punishing or interrogating their parents back home weighed heavily on the minds of every pro-democracy student interviewed. It was a constant concern that had to be evaluated before decisions were made of what to say, what they could attend, and even with whom they were friends.