Scholar Anne-Marie Brady says she has experienced harassment and interference often while conducting research in China, but over the past year, Brady says, for the first time, she has been the victim of intimidation in her home country of New Zealand.
Brady, a professor at New Zealand's University of Canterbury, says her home and office have been broken into; she has received a letter warning her of an attack against her; and her car has been tampered with. This week more than 220 scholars and journalists have signed a letter in support for Brady, urging the New Zealand government to offer her protection.
Martin Hala runs the Sinopsis website and project which published the letter, and is an academic in Prague. He told NPR the criminal harassment of Brady may be unprecedented. "This is probably the first time, when this kind of action would be taken against a professor in her own country. We have seen a trend lately of the Communist Party of China trying to limit the freedom of expression, even beyond the borders of the People's Republic of China," Hala said.
A year ago Brady published a paper called Magic Weapons on China's attempt to influence Western countries, and a book, China as a Polar Great Power. Brady said break-ins to her office and home followed the publication of her research, and electronic devices tied to that research were stolen. In February, Brady said she received an anonymous letter that "warned me I was next for attack."
Last month, after taking her car in for a check-up, Brady said mechanics told her, "I don't want to alarm you, but your car has been sabotaged. Somebody has tampered with the tires, and he said that two valves had been damaged, and the tire pressure in the two front tires had been taken down, and the back tires were completely normal. At that level of pressure, you can still drive with them, but what would happen is if you break suddenly, or went at high speed, is the tires would disintegrate, and the front wheel drive would lose control."
In a letter published on Sinopsis, scholars, researchers, reporters and human rights activists said that the harassment of Brady is a sign of political interference by China.
Miguel Martin, who writes under the pseudonym Jichang Lulu, wrote in a preface to the letter that "under Xi Jinping's rule, the PRC Party-state has intensified domestic repression to levels not seen in decades. ... The wave of domestic repression has been accompanied by increasing efforts to limit freedom of expression even beyond the PRC's borders."
Martin told NPR, "Punishing [Brady] could have a chilling effect leading other scholars to stay away from research on [Chinese Communist Party] influence activities. This is especially relevant to students choosing a specialization."
Peter Mattis, a former counterintelligence analyst at the CIA, was a signatory to the letter in support of Brady.
Mattis told NPR that New Zealand is a small country, but located in an area strategically important to China. "It has an important voice on Antarctic affairs. It has territory in the Pacific that is quite vast, over the ocean. It is a technology leader in some fields," Mattis said.
Mattis said the letter supporting Brady had come at a key inflection point in ties between China and other parts of the world. "Many countries, Australia, New Zealand, the United States, and some European countries, are in the middle of redefining their relationship with China, and much of the conversation about the Party's political interference in Democratic societies is really about managing the risks of engagement," Mattis said. "China under Xi Jinping is acting very differently than it has in the past."