Chinese student gets US prison term for threatening pro-democracy activist


By Nate Raymond

BOSTON (Reuters) – A Chinese music student was sentenced on Wednesday to nine months in a U.S. prison for harassing an activist who posted fliers at the Berklee College of Music in Boston supporting democracy in China and threatening to report her activities to Chinese law enforcement.

Prosecutors had urged U.S. District Judge Denise Casper in Boston to sentence Xiaolei Wu, 26, to nearly three years in prison to send a message that the United States would not tolerate China’s attempts to silence people of Chinese descent who express views at odds with the government.

Casper, in imposing a shorter sentence, noted that Wu’s harassment campaign while “egregious” was short — just two days — and that Wu, who had no previous criminal history, would be deported upon completing his sentence.

But she said a prison sentence was nonetheless warranted to deter other Chinese nationals who come to the United States to study and ensure they know that “no one can engage in criminal conduct, particularly conduct to suppress free speech.”

U.S. and Western authorities have been working to counter efforts by China’s government to silence its critics abroad. Human rights groups have complained of threats to academic freedom and monitoring of Chinese students on international university campuses.

Wu, who was in the United States on a student visa, was convicted by a jury in January on cyberstalking and threat charges over what prosecutors say was a campaign he launched to harass a recent Berklee graduate referred to in court only as Zooey.

He did so after seeing a photo on Instagram that the activist had posted in October 2022 of a flier she placed on the campus of the private music college that said, “We Want Freedom,” “We Want Democracy,” and “Stand with Chinese People.”

In response, Wu posted on a 300-person chat of Chinese Berklee students and alumni on the social media app WeChat a demand that she take down her “reactionary” fliers and threatened to chop off her hands if she posted more.

Prosecutors said he made additional threats and claimed to have called in a tip to a Chinese public security agency about her, a threat he followed through on by reporting her to his mother, a Chinese government official.

Wu, a guitarist who was studying jazz, in court on Wednesday apologized for his “reckless behavior,” saying he needed “to take responsibility and accept what I have done.”

“For making Zoey feel threatened, I feel very sorry,” he said.

(Reporting by Nate Raymond in Boston; Editing by Leslie Adler)



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