WELLINGTON, New Zealand — More than 160 China experts from around the world have signed a letter urging New Zealand’s government to protect an academic who said she was the subject of harassment and intimidation for publishing research critical of the Chinese Communist Party.
The letter, published Thursday on the Czech website Sinopsis and signed by 169 scholars, researchers, journalists, commentators and human rights advocates, is the latest effort by scholars to ramp up pressure on Western governments to confront China’s political interference beyond its borders.
The New Zealand police and the country’s intelligence agency, along with Interpol, are investigating the case of Anne-Marie Brady, a professor at the University of Canterbury in the city of Christchurch. She said she had been subjected to a yearlong harassment campaign in which her home was burglarized, her office broken into twice and her car sabotaged.
Ms. Brady said the only items stolen from her home were electronic devices linked to her China scholarship, with the thief or thieves ignoring cash and newer electronics used by other family members.
She said the harassment began after she published a paper in 2017 titled Magic Weapons, which outlined what she called China’s blueprint for spreading its influence in Western countries.
In Thursday’s letter, the signatories said they were “appalled and alarmed” by the “wave of intimidation” against Ms. Brady. An introduction written by Miguel Martin, an independent China researcher who writes under the pseudonym Jichang Lulu, said the number of “unprecedented attacks” on foreign scholars of China were escalating.
He said China’s intimidation of academics included “harassment for their views and opinions, denial of visas, threatened or actual libel suits or, in some cases, detentions during research visits in mainland China.”
Kevin Carrico, a lecturer in Chinese studies at Macquarie University in Sydney, Australia, and one of several Australian academics to sign the letter, said the harassment of Ms. Brady “only confirms” her research into Chinese meddling and risked silencing other China watchers.
“We’re facing a completely unacceptable and frankly insane situation in which a scholar focused on P.R.C. interference operations is falling victim to those same interference operations,” Mr. Carrico said, referring to the People’s Republic of China.
The letter writers accuse New Zealand’s government of being “slow to take action” and failing “to acknowledge that a problem exists.”
“The harassment campaign against Brady risks having a chilling effect on scholarly inquiry, allowing the C.C.P. to interfere in the politics of our societies unfettered by informed scrutiny,” the writers said, referring to the Chinese Communist Party.
The letter also asserted that Ms. Brady’s requests for additional protection for her and her family had gone unanswered. A New Zealand police spokesman said in an email that officers were “aware of the victim’s concerns and she has been provided advice.”
New Zealand’s prime minister, Jacinda Ardern, told reporters Thursday that she had to allow police officers to work independently of the government, but she would ask one of the lawmakers in her governing Labour Party to look into Ms. Brady’s situation.
“What I will do is have the police minister just seek an assurance that everything that can and should be done is being done, including for Ms. Brady’s own personal security,” Ms. Ardern told Radio New Zealand.
Australia’s community of China scholars has been divided over whether there is evidence of China’s interference in Australian political affairs. But one scholar who signed the letter about Ms. Brady said that among the signatories were people who had previously doubted China’s reach in Australia.
“Whether you agree with Brady’s research is really a secondary issue,” said Adam Ni, a China researcher at the Australian National University in Canberra, the Australian capital, who signed the letter.
“She shouldn’t be intimidated for doing that research and giving her opinion,” he added.
While Australia has made moves to prevent foreign influence in its politics, New Zealand, which has a significant trade relationship with China, has been criticized by its Western allies in the Five Eyes intelligence sharing partnership for not doing enough.
As the government wrestles with the issue, New Zealand last month joined other nations in blocking Huawei, the Chinese telecommunications equipment maker, from supplying technology for a next-generation mobile data network because of fears it could prove a security threat.
Last September, one lawmaker admitted he had taught English to spies in China, and this October, another was accused of trying to hide a campaign contribution from a wealthy Chinese businessman with ties to China’s Communist Party.
Orignially published in NYT.