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China uses threats about relatives to silence expats and exiles

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Anastasia Lin
Anastasia Lin.
AP
Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais


  • The family of former beauty queen Anastasia Lin have
    been continually threatened and prevented from traveling abroad
    because of Lin’s decision to discuss Chinese human-rights
    issues.
  • Her family had visas to Hong Kong revoked and her
    father has had his passport canceled, while police also
    threaten them with persecution like during the Cultural
    Revolution.
  • Police also take fruit and flower baskets to visit
    Lin’s grandparents regularly, in hopes of using them to
    persuade their granddaughter to be silent.
  • The families of human-rights activists, journalists,
    and persecuted ethnic minorities are frequently threatened and
    put in “re-education
    camps
    ” in order to silence expats and exile relatives
    speaking about China overseas.

Anastasia Lin may never see her family in China again.

Shortly after winning the Miss World Canada title in 2015,
Beijing deemed China-born Lin “persona non
grata”  a powerful diplomatic term
that effectively banned her from the country — because she
was speaking out on the country’s human-rights issues.

But more problematic than Lin’s ability to enter China, is
the difficulty her family have had trying to leave, which is
being used as leverage to pressure the Chinese-Canadian actress
and activist. 

While in Australia earlier this year, Lin told Business
Insider how her uncles and even elderly grandparents had their
visas to Hong Kong revoked in 2016 in an attempt by authorities
to silence Lin and punish her Hunan-based family.

“The day before I left, my mother told me that the police went
into my grandparents home and took away their visa, their Hong
Kong visa. These are 70 year-olds, and they took it away.
They intercepted my uncle in the airport on his way to Macau, to
Hong Kong,” Lin said.

“My grandmother told me … they took away the Hong Kong visa and
they said very explicitly that it was because of my activities
overseas and influence,” she said. “Since then, my
grandparents have been getting routine police visits.”


Anastasia Lin
Miss
World Canada Anastasia Lin speaks during a news conference in
Hong Kong, China November 27, 2015.

REUTERS/Tyrone Siu

Lin’s great-grandfather was executed in public during the
Cultural Revolution “to warn the rest,” according to Lin, and the
fear from that time has returned for her grandparents who are now
subject to regular house calls by authorities.

“Later on my grandmother told me that the visits sometimes are
with fruit and flowers but it was for the purpose of persuading
them to persuade me to do less, to not do anything, and to
convince me to be on the opposite side,” she said.

These weren’t the first threats and police visits Lin’s family
received. Within weeks of winning her crown, security agents
started threatening her father telling him that his daughter
“cannot talk” about Chinese human-rights issues. 

“My father sent me text message saying that they have contacted
him telling him that if I continue to speak up, my family would
be persecuted like in the Cultural Revolution. My father’s
generation grew up in the middle of Cultural Revolution, so for
him it’s the biggest threat you can make. It means you die, you
get publicly persecuted,” Lin said, adding that her father
“begged” her for a way for the family to survive in China.

Lin said it’s been a long time since she spoke to her father
because their calls are monitored, but she learned recently his
passport was rejected for renewal.

Lin is just one of many Chinese expats and exiles whose mainland
relatives are used as leverage to try and control China’s
reputation abroad.

Business Insider has previously reported on how relatives are
contacted to try and control
what their adult children are posting on social
media
 while they study at foreign universities. And
ethnic minority Uighurs, Tibetans, and other human-rights
activists who have faced persecution have frequently said their
family members are used as leverage to try and control their
actions and speech overseas, with some even being blackmailed
into spying
for the state
.

Family members of five Radio Free Asia
journalists, 

including
two US citizens

, were recently detained in an attempt
to stop their reporting on human-rights abuses against Uighurs in
the
Xinjiang
region. One of those journalists is Gulchehra
Hoja, who had more than 20 relatives disappear all in one day,
earlier this year.

“When I heard my brother was detained, I [initially] chose
not to speak up because my mother asked me, ‘Please I already
lost you, I don’t want to lose my son too,” Hoja told a
congressional hearing last week. “We don’t want to put them in
further danger because of our acts or any word against
China.”

“My family haven’t been able to be reunited in 17 years,”
she added.

The fear of this happening is also an effective enough tool
to self-censor criticism, even if family members aren’t being
directly threatened.

Square engineer Jackie Luo explained on
Twitter
 what happened when last week the Chinese
government closed down one of her mother’s WeChat groups here
people in China and abroad would send hundreds of messages a day
talking about social issues. 

“They asked the person who started the WeChat group to
restart it. He lives in the US now. But he won’t; he’s afraid. He
has relatives in China, and if the government is monitoring him,
then it may well be unsafe. They understand. This social group of
136 people—it’s dead now,” Luo wrote.

But when people choose to speak out, it can be harder for those
still in China to understand.

“My grandpa [is] like, ‘Well why don’t you just give up, then you
can come back?'” Lin said. “They think it’s that easy because the
Chinese Communist Party promised them that if I don’t speak up, I
will get to go back, but I know that’s not the case. I know
usually if you don’t speak up you don’t have any leverage. They
will just kill your voice completely.”

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