Canada’s newly crowned Miss World candidate Anastasia Lin has drawn attention to a grim reality for many Canadians of Chinese heritage: They are being watched by Chinese security forces in Canada, and friends and family in China will be threatened if those security forces don’t like what they see.
Lin, a Canadian citizen for over a decade, likely surprised the security personnel in China when she went public with their threats against her father in China in an effort to silence her human rights advocacy. They wouldn’t have expected international headlines when they intimidated him into pressuring his daughter to abandon her advocacy.
China’s authoritarian government routinely threatens the family members of Canadians in order to silence Canadian citizens who expose the regime’s abuses. Until now, not much fuss was made.
Lin, a 25-year-old Torontonian who campaigned for the title of Miss World Canada on a human rights platform, said her story is common.
“I think this story is actually just the tip of the iceberg. It is a very small part that people see in a huge picture. There are a lot of stories like this that have never really been heard.”
Epoch Times spoke with several Canadians whose family members were threatened in China after they criticized China’s ruling Communist Party for imprisoning, torturing, or killing people.
The pattern is well worn: Chinese Canadians make public statements about beatings, extrajudicial killings, or other abuses in China. Family members in China are then visited by security personnel, sometimes police, sometimes agents of the 610 Office or the Ministry of State Security.
Less often but not uncommon, such visits by security forces are prompted by personal conversations between someone in Canada and someone in China, on subject matter that is not political, though the Canadian citizen is politically active.
During interrogations that follow, these security forces reveal that they monitor the Canadian family member and threaten those in China to either break contact with the family member or report on their activities in Canada.
Some of those interviewed for this story are members of religious or ethnic groups targeted by the Chinese regime or human rights or democracy advocates. Some, who are not named and only parts of their stories are mentioned, wanted to remain anonymous. They fear for family members in China, some of whom are imprisoned for political reasons or are trying to immigrate.
‘No One Wants to Talk to Me’
Rukiye Turdush, a Uyghur activist living in Toronto, can no longer talk to her friends and family in her hometown of Urumchi, the capital of Xinjiang Autonomous Region, aka Turkistan. It’s too dangerous for them.
“Actually, when I called one of my friends she said: ‘I’m proud of you but never ever call me again and I cannot call you either.’ Then she hung up the phone quickly.”
Most have blocked Turdush on WeChat, a popular online instant messaging and calling app. Others answer their phones and ask her to never call again, apologizing and saying they hope she understands.
“I miss them sometimes. I need to talk to them, but no one—no one—wants to talk to me.”
Uyghurs, who face similar repression to Tibetans, were the first political prisoners executed and organ harvested, according to Chinese police sources in Ethan Gutmann’s new book “The Slaughter: Mass Killings, Organ Harvesting, and China’s Secret Solution to Its Dissident Problem.”
Turdush now knows that a call to discuss childhood memories will bring security forces to her friends’ doors, leaving some scared and crying. Her uncle was interrogated more than once, told to silence Turdush or face the consequences. When he died last year, she couldn’t call her aunt or cousins to give her condolences.
Few of those interviewed by the Epoch Times knew the full details of what happened to their relatives. The relatives are afraid to talk about it, convinced they are being monitored.
‘My Neighbours Had to Go Into Hiding’
When activist Tsewang Dhondup fled Tibet in 2008 after being shot twice during protests there, he eventually ended up in Toronto. Threats followed.
“Most advocates who have escaped Tibet have directly dealt with these kinds of warnings,” said Dhondup via a translated email.
“People are kicked out of government jobs if their relatives are vocal outside Tibet,” he explained. “In my case, not just my family, but many of my neighbours had to go into hiding to escape persecution after I escaped from Tibet.”
The day after he fled, Dhondup’s village head was arrested. The villagers were terrified.
“People couldn’t even feel safe at home by themselves due to fear of being arrested and punished.”
He divorced his wife in late 2010 to protect her from reprisals for his overseas activism.
“This is the situation on the ground today. Miss World Canada’s problems are faced by many millions who are persecuted by China,” he said.
‘Tell Us What Your Brother Is Doing’
In 2012, the president of NTD Television Canada, Joe Wang, received a call from the home of his brother in eastern Anhui Province. When he answered, it was an agent from China’s Ministry of State Security.
The agent wanted Wang to tone down his station’s critical reporting of the Chinese Communist Party. At the time, Wang said it was fairly common to get calls like that but it was usually his brother talking while the security agent sat beside him.
Calgary resident Jeff Yang was interviewed by that TV station in 2012 about the China National Offshore Oil Corporation (CNOOC) takeover of Calgary-based Nexen.
A petroleum geologist, Yang worked for CNOOC until 1999. He revealed how the security staff at the company cooperated with the 610 Office to take staff who practiced Falun Gong to detention centers and brainwashing facilities.
Yang’s brother was then contacted by security forces and told to come in for interrogation. He called Yang, terrified. Yang was frightened too.
“My brother was told by these guys that ‘You should tell us what your brother is doing in Canada,'” said Yang. His brother was also told that if he didn’t stop Yang’s advocacy in Canada, his own job and his son’s job in China would “become a problem.”
Yang, a Falun Gong practitioner, is active in raising awareness about human rights issues in China. Security personnel told Yang’s family in China of his activities in Canada.
Security personnel routinely ask Chinese people to spy on their relatives or provide detailed information, including workplaces, addresses, phone numbers, email addresses, and so on.
Kayum Masimov, a Uyhgur-Canadian in Montreal, has no family in China but has received telephone death threats and suffers relentless cyberattacks common to critics of the regime, as revealed by a detailed study done by The Citizen Lab in Toronto.
Masimov sympathized with Lin’s experience, grateful that she was drawing attention to the threats.
“What happened to Miss Canada is common. It is the general policy of China,” he said.
“Even though you quit China you are not free. Persecution goes beyond the physical boundaries of China. This is not the fantasy of a few marginalized people—this is very common.”
Masimov said Uyghurs that return to Xinjiang face interrogation and pressure to spy when they return to Canada.
While spying is often focused on dissident groups or communities, there are concerns in security circles that ordinary Chinese working in sensitive government or industrial positions could also be compelled to spy.
‘My Father Was Beaten’
Bob Fu, the founder and president of U.S.-based ChinaAid, a Christian international human rights group, knows that violence isn’t uncommon either.
“My father was beaten after I released documents containing top government secrets and stories of government-sanctioned persecution in 2002,” he said.
“All of my relatives, including those I have never met, have been interviewed and threatened. The government’s intended message to me is clear: ‘Unless you, Bob Fu, shut your mouth, we, the Chinese security forces, will not stop harassing your family members.'”
It’s a reality that leaves Fu feeling guilty sometimes about speaking out.
Lin struggles similarly. She campaigned for Miss World Canada on a platform of human rights, a pledge to be “a voice for the voiceless.” She said being silent would have meant turning her back on everything she stood for.
Shen Xue, an award-winning journalist and prominent democracy activist based in Toronto, had her family threatened as well.
“The communist regime has been using people’s most soft area—their feelings about family, their love of family, their love of hometown, home country, and their love of friends, anything. If it can be a tool for them to use, they never hesitate,” she said.
Shen fled China after the Tiananmen Square massacre. Her family is now outside of China, but security forces continue to threaten her husband’s family there.
‘This Is Incomprehensible’
Punishing one person for the offence of another is common in China, a practice of guilt by association used heavily since the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) came to power in 1949.
Once used in political campaigns like the Cultural Revolution to stamp out entire classes of people—landlords, religious believers, intellectuals, and “rightists” who held to traditional ideas of Chinese culture or morality—it is now routine.
The CCP uses guilt by association to break down loyalties. People must choose the Party over their own families, a choice that has forced countless Chinese to denounce those dearest to them.
For those in Canada who would exercise their free speech, family members in China are hostages to the regime.
“This is incomprehensible in the modern civilized society, but in China it is very much the norm,” said Masimov.
The intimidation keeps Chinese-Canadians, or Chinese people staying in Canada for school or work, in line.
Security forces in China have warned Uyghur parents that should their children going to school in Canada connect with Uyghurs here, there could be dire consequences. Turdush said this has left them frightened and isolated.
In 2010 and 2011, the Epoch Times uncovered incidents where U.S. and Canadian embassies used their influence to compel Chinese students to join welcome rallies for visiting Chinese leaders. Those efforts were meant to nullify human rights protests during the visits by groups like Uyghurs, Tibetans, and Falun Gong adherents.
These efforts were part of an earlier directive the regime sent to all embassies and consulates around the world.
In 2005, Chen Yonglin, first secretary and consul for political affairs, defected from the Chinese Consulate in Sydney and exposed that directive. Embassies were required to influence government officials, mobilize Chinese students and the Chinese community, and control the Chinese media to influence public policy on China.
‘I Am Not Overseas Chinese’
The regime justifies these practices with a simple but powerful idea: that all Chinese people—wherever they reside—are under its authority.
Dick Chan, the founding chair of the Toronto Association for Democracy in China, said the idea is summed up in a simple phrase—overseas Chinese.
“The Chinese Communist Party is using that term, ‘overseas Chinese,’ to legitimize their influence of the Chinese Canadian community,” he said.
“We are Canadian. They have no right to interfere with any of our politics,” he said.
“I am not overseas Chinese, I am Canadian. They are overseas—overseas from Canada.”
Chan believes even the Canadian government and media have bought into this idea on some level, viewing Chinese-Canadians as Chinese first and Canadian second. If they were seen as Canadians first and foremost, he believes the regime’s threats against them would stir greater reaction.
‘I Hope Everyone Can Be Like Her’
It is also important that Chinese-Canadians or others threatened by the regime to speak out as Lin did, said Turdush.
“I hope everyone can be like her, because then China cannot manipulate people.”
If people stay silent, it encourages the practice, she said.
“China then says ‘ha ha it works,’ and they are going to continue using this policy, putting pressure on those families and doing whatever they want.”
In speaking out, Lin has helped raise the profile of the issue, said Urgyen Badheytsang, national director of Students for a Free Tibet Canada.
“When Miss World Canada gets threatened with something like this, it really hits home. Now Canadians suddenly feel like one of their own is being affected by the human rights situation in China,” said Badheytsang.
Masimov said with over a million Canadians potentially affected by this issue, it cannot be ignored.
“It is a question of sovereignty,” he said.
‘Meaningful and Powerful’
There could already be change underway. Canada’s Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade (DFAIT) commented on the threats made against Lin’s family, breaking the government’s normal silence on the issue.
In a statement sent to the Epoch Times, a DFAIT representative wrote, “Canada commends Ms. Lin for her efforts to raise awareness regarding [freedom of religion and freedom of expression].
“Canada is also concerned about allegations that the Chinese government have harassed Ms. Lin’s family in China,” reads the statement.
It wasn’t much, but for Lin it was significant. She wrote an open letter to DFAIT, thanking them effusively for the support.
“Your gesture is both meaningful and powerful. … Such attention is often the only tool to help stop human rights abuses inside China,” she wrote.
Xun Li, president of the Falun Dafa Association of Canada, is hoping for more.
“While we commend the Canadian government’s support of Ms. Lin, I encourage our government to continue to speak out, and to urge the Chinese authority to stop the harassment,” he said.
Li believes every effort the regime makes to silence its Canadian critics is an opportunity to refute it and expose its true character. He is hopeful more people will demonstrate their courage, he said.
For her part, Lin is preparing to go to China for the Miss World final, which will be held in on Dec. 19 in Sanya. The next chapter of the story should be interesting, said Badheytsang.
“This issue is really blowing up, which I think is great because isn’t the final pageant in China? What is going to happen then? She’s gone all out. This is something to look forward to.”