A Chinese student appeared in court in the United States on Wednesday, charged with one count of stalking after allegedly threatening and harassing someone who advocated for democracy in China, US authorities said.
Xiaolei Wu, 25, a student at the Berklee College of Music in Boston, faces up to five years in prison, three years of supervised release and a fine of up to $250,000, according to the US Attorney’s Office in the District of Massachusetts.
According to a complaint, Wu allegedly sent threatening messages to a person who posted a flier on or near the college campus supporting Chinese democracy. “Post more, I will chop your bastard hands off,” Wu reportedly said on WeChat, a Chinese messaging app.
Charging documents allege Wu reported the person to the Chinese government and told them its representatives would “greet” their family members.
Wu allegedly also solicited others to find where the person lives, and publicly posted their email address online in the hope that they would receive abuse, the documents said.
He was released after the court appearance, a spokeswoman for the US Attorney’s Office told CNN. It’s unclear if he entered a plea. CNN has reached out to the Federal Public Defender Office in Massachusetts, which is representing Wu, for comment.
Wu has been suspended from Berklee College of Music, according to a statement from the school Wednesday night.
“The described behavior is troubling to Berklee,” the school said. “We cannot, however, comment on ongoing law enforcement investigations.”
In recent years, as Chinese leader Xi Jinping has stoked nationalism at home and pursued an assertive foreign policy abroad, an increasing number of overseas Chinese students have stepped forward to defend Beijing from any criticism or perceived slights – sometimes with the blessing of Chinese embassies.
There were protests when a California university invited the Dalai Lama to be a guest speaker; rebukes for professors perceived to teach “anti-China” content in their lectures; and clashes when other campus groups expressed support for Hong Kong’s pro-democracy protests.
However, the rising nationalist sentiment is by no means representative of all Chinese students overseas. Many of those who do not agree with China’s ruling Communist Party and its policies simply choose to stay silent. For them, the stakes of openly criticizing Beijing are just too high. In past years, those who spoke out have faced harassment and intimidation, retaliation against family back home, and lengthy prison terms upon returning to China.
Even when Chinese students around the globe participated in rare acts of protest earlier this year – many posting anti-Xi slogans around their campuses in solidarity with a lone protester in Beijing – those who spoke with CNN said they were worried about being spotted by Beijing’s supporters, who they feared could expose them on Chinese social media or report them to embassies.