Chinese student jailed in US for threatening pro-democracy activist

Wu Xiaolei’s nine-month sentence could deter similar behavior from China’s ‘Little Pinks’ overseas.
By Jenny Tang for RFA Mandarin
2024.04.29
Chinese student jailed in US for threatening pro-democracy activist A Department of Homeland Security vehicle parked outside the Federal Courthouse in Boston, where Wu Xiaolei, a Chinese student at the Berklee College of Music, was found guilty in January 2024.
(AP)

A court in the United States has jailed a Chinese student at Berklee College of Music for nine months for “initiating a stalking and threat campaign against an individual who promoted freedom and democracy in China,” the U.S. Department of Justice said.

Wu Xiaolei, 26, was handed the sentence by U.S. District Court Judge Denise Casper, who also sentenced Wu to three years of supervised release.

Wu had stalked and threatened a Chinese woman who posted fliers in support of democracy in China with having her hands “chopped off” if she posted anything more.

The sentencing comes amid growing concern over China’s ongoing attempts to wield political influence on overseas university campuses, and over the sometimes violent lengths the “Little Pink” supporters of the Chinese Communist Party are willing to go to further Beijing’s interests on foreign soil.

The fliers, which were posted on the college campus, read: “Stand with Chinese People” as well as, “We Want Freedom” and “We Want Democracy.”

Wu also threatened the woman, saying that her actions had been reported to the state security police in China, who would be paying a visit to her family.

ENG_CHN_LittlePinkJailed_04262024.2.jpg
Wu Xiaolei is shown in an undated screengrab supplied by the Massachusetts District Attorney’s Office. (RTR)

He was found guilty by a federal jury of one count of cyberstalking and one of interstate transmission of threatening communication in January 2024, the department said in a statement on its website dated April 24.

Wu also tried to find out where the victim was living and publicly posted the woman’s email address in the hopes that others would abuse the victim online, the court found.

Avoiding ‘Little Pinks’

“Mr. Wu’s criminal conduct is very serious,” Acting United States Attorney Joshua Levy said in the statement. “He harnessed the fear of potential retribution from the [Chinese] government to harass and threaten an innocent individual who had posted an innocuous, pro-democracy flier on the Berklee campus.”

Wu’s “violent” threats had instilled fear into his victim, Levy said, adding that judicial officials and prosecutors “will not tolerate efforts to intimidate and threaten people to suppress their First Amendment rights.”

“Censorship and repression campaigns will never be tolerated here,” Levy said.

Jodi Cohen, Special Agent in Charge of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Boston Division said Wu’s actions amounted to “weaponizing the authoritarian nature of the People’s Republic of China to threaten this woman,” calling the case “disturbing.”

“The FBI will do everything it can to ensure that those who try to infringe on our fundamental rights – will face similar consequences,” Cohen said.

A Chinese student at an American university who gave only the nickname Eve for fear of reprisals said she has run into “Little Pinks” on her campus, too.

“Whenever I run into Little Pinks, I walk the long way around because I don’t want them to ruin my good mood,” Eve said.

“I once met a Little Pink who said he supported ‘liberating’ Taiwan by force, thereby losing any chance of my friendship for good,” she said. “I think they have been brainwashed, and are being used by the regime.”

‘Indoctrination and brainwashing’

Xie Tian, ​​a professor at the University of South Carolina Business School, said he has been reported to the authorities by “Little Pink” activists at other U.S. schools.

“Once I wrote an article, and it turned out that someone, I believe they were a ‘Little Pink,’ misinterpreted the meaning of it and reported me to my school, distorting my meaning and denouncing me,” Xie told RFA Mandarin in an interview on April 25.

Eve said she believes Wu’s sentencing will have an effect on how far supporters of the Chinese government are prepared to go in future.

“At the very least, they will be more restrained on the surface,” she said. “There is no way to change the way they think, but at least they won’t dare to go to such extreme lengths in public.”

Xie agreed.

“I don’t think this case will change the way they think, but it will curb their behavior,” he said.

“Changing the way they think would require a long period of study and thought to get rid of the Chinese Communist Party’s indoctrination and brainwashing,” Xie said.

“But at least they know now that the consequences of doing this stuff can be very bad.”

Translated by Luisetta Mudie.

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