Australian Olympic swim star Mack Horton and his family have been subject to years of harassment, abuse, and death threats over the swimmer’s protests of China’s Sun Yang.
The prolonged tension between the two sportsman is another example of the intimidation experienced by those who venture anywhere near criticism of the People’s Republic of China.
In an interview with The Weekend Australian published April 25, parents Andrew and Cheryl Horton revealed the harassment began when their son accused Sun of being a “drug cheat” at the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympics.
The comment was based on a three-month ban Sun had served in 2014 for taking a banned stimulant.
A week later, there was a break-in at the family home, and Andrew Horton’s online business experienced numerous cyber-attacks that was stopped once they started denying access from China-based IP addresses.
The harassment intensified when Mack Horton protested again at the 2019 FINA World Championships in South Korea, refusing to take the medals podium with Sun.
Andrew Horton told the newspaper the attacks were “unrelenting.”
They continued “every day and night” throughout the remainder of 2019 until February this year, around the time when Sun was slapped by the Court of Arbitration for Sport with an eight-year suspension from the sport for destroying a blood sample bound for a doping test in September 2018.
Trees and plants at their Melbourne home were poisoned, dog excrement and shards of broken glass were thrown over the fence, and they would receive regular phone calls from someone speaking broken English threatening to harm their daughter (the family does not have a daughter).
Late at night, they would also hear a group of youths chanting slogans, and hitting pots and pans in the alley behind their home.
A security insider told The Weekend Australian’s columnist Luke Slattery: “This is not an amateur action.”
The Horton family’s experience “says something about the reach of foreign powers within Australia,” a national security analyst said.
Andrew Horton, however, said that despite all the attacks, he has much sympathy for Sun and his parents because, in his eyes, Sun is a “victim” of the political machinery running modern China.
He told Slattery that his son’s protest wasn’t about China’s politics, coming second, or even about Sun.
“For Mack, it’s all about clean sport,” he said.
Intimidation of Australian Dissidents
The Horton family’s high profile ordeal highlights the many intimidation efforts by pro-Chinese Communist Party (CCP) supporters direct at unsympathetic Chinese, Australians, and local organisations who have been critical of the communist regime.
Earlier this week, Alim Osman, president of the Uyghur Association of Victoria, testified at the Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence, and Trade saying that he has received threatening phone calls from the authorities in China.
CCP officials threatened the wellbeing of Osman’s family members who live in Xinjiang in response to his speaking out against the communist regime’s human rights abuses in the region directed at Uyghur minorities.
In 2019, Greek-Australian student Drew Pavlou, who helped organise rallies at the University of Queensland in support of Hong Kong protesters, said he received multiple death threats in addition to hundreds of abusive messages on social media from those who support the Chinese regime and its actions in Hong Kong.
One such death threat on July 31 involved Pavlou’s mother. “Ur [sic] mother is dead u’d [sic] better go home immediately and have a look,” it read. Pavlou has been seeking a peace and good behaviour order against China’s Consul-General in Brisbane, Dr. Xu Jie. Xu previously accused Pavlou of being an “anti-China separatist.” The remarks were echoed by the CCP mouthpiece “Global Times.”
In 2016, the Australian Financial Review reported that a pharmacy at the Canberra-based Australian National University was threatened by the head of a Chinese student association for displaying copies of The Epoch Times Chinese-language newspaper. The Epoch Times reports uncensored information on the communist regime’s human rights issues.
In 2010, the Brisbane-based Epoch Times branch was attacked in a drive-by shooting. The office in Sunnybank was due to host a seminar by human rights lawyer David Matas the same week. Before and after the incident, the office had never experienced such issues.