Chinese student in Boston gets nine months in prison for threatening pro-democracy schoolmate

A Chinese music student in Boston was sentenced to nine months in prison by a US district court judge on Wednesday for harassing and threatening a fellow student who distributed fliers advocating for democracy in China.

In issuing the sentence, Judge Denise Casper noted that Xiaolei Wu, 26, who grew up in Beijing, had no previous criminal history and that he would be deported upon completing his sentence.

She called Wu’s actions – which took place over several days in October 2022 – “egregious” and said the jail sentence served as a deterrent to other Chinese students in the US who might engage in criminal behaviour, especially actions aimed at suppressing free speech.

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While studying jazz at the Berklee College of Music in Boston, Wu used platforms including WeChat, email and Instagram to communicate directly with the victim, identified as “Miss Zooey”, regarding her campus activism, according to court documents.

A sign posted by the democracy activist who was stalked and harassed by Wu Xiaolei. Photo: FBI

Wu also threatened to report her activities to Chinese law enforcement, prosecutors said.

Wu, who was a graduate student at Berklee, also encouraged others to locate the victim’s residence and publicly shared her email address with the intention of inciting online abuse, the US Attorney’s Office in Massachusetts said on Wednesday.

Prosecutors said Wu threatened to chop off the woman’s hands and mentioned that Chinese officials would visit her family. The defence called his remarks an “immature” online disagreement between two people with differing political beliefs.

In January, a federal jury convicted Wu of one count of cyberstalking and one count of interstate transmission of threatening communication.

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Acting US Attorney Joshua Levy described Wu’s conduct as “serious”, saying his office and the Department of Justice would never tolerate “censorship and repression campaigns here”.

Jodi Cohen, who leads the FBI’s Boston office, said that Wu had now “learned there are serious consequences for harassing, threatening, stalking and infringing on a fellow student’s constitutional rights solely because she was critical of the ruling Communist Party of China”.

She said Wu’s “weaponising” of China’s “authoritarian nature” was “incredibly disturbing” and said the FBI would do “everything it can to ensure that those who try to infringe on our fundamental rights will face similar consequences”.

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