The FBI has arrested a Chinese national on allegations of stalking and threatening comments directed at an activist who posted fliers supporting democracy in China. The Chinese national could be part of a broader Chinese effort to intimidate dissidents abroad.
On Wednesday, the Department of Justice announced Boston-based FBI special agents arrested Xiaolei Wu, a Chinese national and Berklee College of Music student. Wu, 25, was charged with a single count of stalking and made an initial appearance in federal court in Boston on Wednesday.
According to the charges, on Oct. 22, 2022 an individual posted fliers around the Berklee College of Music campus in Boston that said, “Stand with Chinese People,” as well as, “We Want Freedom,” and “We Want Democracy.” Between Oct. 22 and 24, Wu is alleged to have made a series of threatening comments on WeChat, email and Instagram directed at the individual who posted the flier.
In one of the communications, Wu allegedly said, “Post more, I will chop your bastard hands off.”
Wu also allegedly told the victim that he had informed authorities in China about the victim’s actions and that those Chinese authorities would “greet” the victim’s family.
Wu also allegedly called on others to find out where the victim was living and publicly posted the victim’s email address in the hopes that others would continue to harass the victim online.
“The Department of Justice will always defend the right to engage in free speech and political expressionWe allege that Mr. Wu’s threatening and harassing behavior was not free speech.” said U.S. Attorney Rachael Rollins. “Rather, it was an attempt to silence and intimidate the activist’s expressed views dissenting of the PRC. We will not tolerate threats, harassment or any other repression attempts against those peacefully promoting their ideas, doing their jobs, or expressing their opinions.”
FBI Special Agent Joseph Bonavolonta said the FBI believes Wu stalked and harassed the victim and raised an effort so that Chinese authorities “would launch an investigation into the victim and her family.”
“This alleged conduct is incredibly disturbing and goes completely against our country’s democratic values,” Bonavolonta said.
U.S. authorities have previously charged and arrested individuals they believe are working on behalf of the Chinese government to intimidate critics of the ruling Chinese Communist Party (CCP) who live abroad.
In May, the U.S. Department of Justice arrested an American and charged four more suspected Chinese intelligence officers with gathering information on Hong Kong pro-democracy activists, Taiwan independence activists, and Uyghur and Tibetan activists living in the U.S.
In March, the DOJ charged three Americans and two alleged Chinese MSS officers in an effort to spy on and harass Chinese dissidents, including a Brooklyn resident running for a U.S. congressional seat. Two of the Americans and one of the Chinese nationals were also charged with attempting to bribe an employee of the U.S. Internal Revenue Service (IRS) in an alleged effort to access the tax records of Chinese dissidents.
The FBI is also investigating allegations that Chinese agents set up covert police stations within foreign countries, including the U.S., in order to keep track of and target dissidents.
These secret police stations may be part of China’s “Fox Hunt” operations. China says its “Fox Hunt” operations are meant to convince Chinese criminals living abroad to return to China, but they have been accused of targeting Chinese dissidents and relying on threats and coercive behavior to get those dissidents to come back to China.
The Chinese “Fox Hunt” operations may rely on Chinese agents communicating threats to Chinese dissidents living abroad that authorities will harm their family members still living in China if the targeted individual doesn’t return “voluntarily.”