world : A cartoon cat has been vexing China’s censors – now he says they are on his tail

world : A cartoon cat has been vexing China’s censors – now he says they are on his tail
world : A cartoon cat has been vexing China’s censors – now he says they are on his tail

Wednesday 12 June 2024 10:51 PM

Nafeza 2 world - Analysts trace China’s so-called transnational repression back to the decade-old Operation Foxhunt to catch fugitive criminals. They believe those tactics are now used to target anyone overseas that Beijing deems a threat.

Mr Li believes there are enough signs suggesting he is now one of these people. He said the police showed up at a company in China from which he had ordered art supplies in the past, demanding his Italian shipping information. He received calls from someone claiming to represent an European delivery service and asking for his current address, though he had never placed the order.

Details of his former address and phone number were published on the messaging platform WeChat. A stranger turned up at his former home, asking to meet him as he wanted to discuss a “business proposal”.

It is not clear whether Chinese authorities were directly behind these incidents. But this kind of ambiguity can be intentional as it stokes “an ever-present fear of persecution and distrust” in targets, said Laura Harth, campaign director for rights group Safeguard Defenders which recently highlighted Mr Li’s situation, external.

Beijing is accused of working with middlemen, such as Chinese businessmen based abroad, so the government can later deny direct involvement. Safeguard Defenders alleges the person who showed up at Mr Li’s former home is a businessman linked to one of China’s controversial overseas police stations.

“Often there are nationalists and patriotic people who work with the government in a tandem, symbiotic relationship,” said Yaqiu Wang, China research director at Freedom House. The thinking, she said, is “if I do this for the authorities then it’s good for my business”.

The pressure has ramped up in recent months, Mr Li said.

Authorities began surveilling and questioning his parents more – at one point the visits happened every day, he said. Even officials from the school they used to work for asked them to persuade Mr Li to stop.

“They are interrogating everyone in China who is linked to me, even WeChat contacts, trying to understand my life habits, understand what kind of restaurants I like to go to,” he said. One person was allegedly even pressured to confess he was Mr Li.

Followers on X have been telling Mr Li they have been asked to "drink tea" - a euphemism for police interrogations - since the end of last year.

He estimated a few hundred people have been questioned and told to unfollow him. Some people have been shown long lists of names purportedly of his followers, with one list running up to 10,000 names, according to Mr Li. He believes authorities did this to show the scale of their interrogations and intimidate him and his followers.

“Of course I feel very guilty. They only wanted to understand what is going on in China, and then they ended up being asked to ‘drink tea’,” he said. In February, he made these reports public with a warning on X – overnight, more than 200,000 people unfollowed him.

It’s unclear how the authorities tracked down X users in China, where the app is blocked. While some could have been identified through their tweets, many would have tried to conceal their identities.

It is plausible the Chinese government asked for user details, said Ms Wang. If so, X “should be transparent” about whether it agreed to any such requests. X has yet to respond to the BBC’s queries.

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