A U.S. university president who is a former governor of Indiana has condemned Chinese nationalist students in his state who harassed a Chinese pro-democracy graduate student for openly praising Tiananmen Square protesters.
Mitch Daniels, president of Purdue University, a public land-grant research university in West Lafayette, Indiana, sent an email to members of the campus community on Wednesday, saying that the treatment of the student, Kong Zhihao — whom Daniels did not name in the message — was “unacceptable and unwelcome.”
The incident stems from a November report by the U.S. media organization ProPublica about how the Chinese government is threatening Chinese students at American universities who openly criticize Beijing, and harassing their families back home.
Kong posted an open letter on a dissident website in May 2020, praising the bravery of students killed during the Tiananmen Square massacre in June 1989, and his intent to participate in a 31st anniversary online commemoration of the event, organized by rights groups, ProPublica reported.
Afterwards, Kong was followed by Chinese students on campus who accused him of being a CIA spy and threatened to report him to the Chinese Embassy in Washington and to Chinese national security personnel. State agents also told Kong’s parents to tell their son to cease his actions.
In response, Kong decided not to give a speech at the commemoration event because of concern for the safety of his family.
Daniels said in the email that it is regrettable that the university was not aware of the incident when it had and only had learned about it through news reports. He then warned that if the identity of the students who threatened Kong could be confirmed, they would face appropriate disciplinary action.
Likewise, students who exercised freedom of speech and belief but directed them against other students or reported to a foreign entity would be subject to severe sanctions, said Daniels, a Republican who served as governor of Indiana from 2005 to 2013.
Additionally, he said students who try to deprive others of their rights or collude with foreign governments to suppress the rights of others, should receive their education elsewhere.
When contacted by RFA about the email, Kong texted that “President Daniels’ courage to safeguard freedom of speech is admirable.”
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