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Activist accuses Chinese government of meddling after McMaster speech disrupted

A presentation by an activist who is critical of the Chinese government's treatment of Uighurs was disrupted at McMaster University this week, under a cloud of speculation that the Chinese government itself was involved.
Activist Rukiye Turdush says she believes the Chinese government was involved in the disruption of a presentation she was giving at McMaster University earlier this week. (Rukiye Turdush/Facebook)

A speech by an activist critical of the Chinese government's treatment of Uighurs was disrupted at McMaster University this week, under a cloud of speculation that the Chinese government itself was involved.

McMaster University says it's concerned about possible surveillance of students and is now looking into what happened. But Rukiye Turdush is adamant that students who filmed and shouted during her talk did so under the direction of the Chinese government.

"I heavily suspect and believe that these students have a strong connection with the Chinese consulate, and they are instructed by the Chinese consulate," she said in a video posted online.

Turdush is an Uighur activist, and was speaking about the internment of Muslims in Northwest China on Feb. 11, in a talk organized by the Muslim Students Association and Muslims' for Justice and Peace.

"A few Chinese students tried to disturb me during my speech and one of them actually verbally insulted me during the discussion period," she said in her video.

I'm not surprised that Chinese diplomats are involved in this. It's entirely inappropriate, but unfortunately it's a fact of life given the way China monitors the way it's perceived in the west.- David Mulroney, former Canadian ambassador to China

According to The Washington Post, news of her talk spread quickly on the Chinese messaging app WeChat.

In posts on the app, students wrote that they contacted the Chinese embassy about the event and were told to watch if officials from the school were there when it took place.

Chinese student groups also published a "bulletin report" about Turdush's talk that noted contact with the Chinese consulate in Toronto, according to The Post.

Calls and emails to the consulate by CBC News were not immediately returned, nor were messages to the Chinese embassy in Ottawa.

In an email, McMaster University spokesperson Gord Arbeau said the school's equity and inclusion office is now looking into what happened.

"We are concerned if anyone felt they would be under surveillance while attending an event on campus. This would not be in keeping with our principles of free speech and respectful dialogue that we uphold at McMaster," he said.

"McMaster is clear in its commitment to freedom of speech. We have a wide range of speakers on campus and we know that not everyone will agree on a particular view or opinion. As a university, we believe that even when views are controversial, they should be freely expressed."

David Mulroney, who served as Canada's ambassador to China from 2009 to 2012, told CBC News that students have been reporting for years that Chinese diplomats are "overly interested" in what goes on in western schools.

"If you take a position in the classroom on a political issue that has relevance to China, other students may report you to the consulate, your scholarship may be in trouble, your family may feel pressure," he said.

The incident happened at McMaster University earlier this week. (CBC)

"I'm not surprised that Chinese diplomats are involved in this. It's entirely inappropriate, but unfortunately it's a fact of life given the way China monitors the way it's perceived in the west."

In a similar incident earlier this week, the president-elect of the University of Toronto's Scarborough campus raised questions about the source of pro-China attacks against her.

Chemi Lhamo said she believed she was targeted because of her Tibetan identity, after receiving thousands of hateful comments online, most rife with anti-Tibet sentiment.

adam.carter@cbc.ca

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Adam Carter

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Adam Carter is a Newfoundlander who now calls Toronto home. He enjoys a good story and playing loud music in dank bars. You can follow him on Twitter @AdamCarterCBC or drop him an email at adam.carter@cbc.ca.

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