Dutch journalist who writes critically on China targeted in “bizarre” intimidation scheme

Volkskrant journalist Marije Vlaskamp said she has been the victim of serious threats and intimidation since last autumn, including when individual or several people made bomb threats under her name at targeting the Chinese embassy in The Hague and other locations. Threats sent to the Dutch journalist over Telegram demanded that she retract an article critical of China, she wrote in English and in Dutch in the Saturday edition of the Volkskrant. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs in the Netherlands responded that it has demanded clarification from China about the intimidation campaign.

Neither the newspaper nor the police have been able to find out who exactly is behind it, but the person who sent the threats claims to represent the interests of the Chinese State. Vlaskamp was a correspondent in China from 2001 to 2019, and has been working as a foreign editor for the Volkskrant since her return to the Netherlands. She regularly writes critically about the Chinese State, and about sensitive subjects such as the oppression of Uyghurs and the activities of Chinese dissidents in the Netherlands.

One of those dissidents is Wang Jingyu. Vlaskamp has written extensively about the 21-year-old who she first met in 2021. “In 2019, when Wang was still in secondary school, he got into trouble in China after writing critical tweets about Hong Kong and other politically sensitive subjects,” she wrote. “He managed to avoid arrest by fleeing the country together with his girlfriend.” The two arrived in the Netherlands nearly two years ago and requested asylum. “In my article I had shown in detail how Beijing was making the young activist’s life miserable over here as well.”

He received threatening messages via Telegram in October from someone who calls themself “Alice,” Vlaskamp said. “Keep your foul mouth shut, you filthy traitor. If you go on forcing yourself upon anti-Chinese media, the police will come to arrest you,” one of the messages read. “Your parents will suffer even worse and one day you will be punished yourself. And things won’t end well for the anti-Chinese journalists either.”

Another message read, “One tip from me and the police will come and arrest you and your journalist friend.” That message was coordinated with a bomb threat at the Chinese embassy that was reported to police. Simultaneously, Vlaskamp and Jingyu both received confirmations of hotel bookings in their name for a location close to the embassy, which they had not arranged themselves.

“This simple email from Booking.com is the start of a complicated and at times bizarre intimidation campaign which takes me on a Chinese rollercoaster ride, against my will. My superiors at the newspaper, the Dutch police, and myself have front row seats for this display of how the Chinese operate if they wish to silence people about matters to which the Chinese one-party State does not want to draw attention,” she said. “We don’t know where this journey will end and neither do we know who is driving. And the person behind the wheel will do everything they can to keep it that way.”

The police response took place on October 15 shutting down parts of The Hague for the investigation. “It sounds crazy, but the Chinese embassy has actually called the police about a bomb and mentioned our names,” Jingyu told Vlaskamp after he spent a day going over his story with police. The bizarre nature of it made Vlaskamp burst out in a fit of laughter, as she had worked frequently with Chinese diplomats and maintained a healthy professional relationship with them.

“During the almost quarter century that I’ve been working as a China correspondent, I’ve learned enough to know how the Chinese operate if they want someone to shut up,” Vlaskamp wrote. “And yet I am also shocked. As far as I know, Western journalists are rarely treated this heavy-handedly. Also, my assailants make no effort at all to conceal that the threat is of Chinese origin.”

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs wants clarification from China about the intimidation and threats against the journalist. The ministry has contacted the Chinese embassy in the Netherlands about this, a spokesperson confirmed.

The ministry called it “very worrying that a dissident and a journalist are faced with such far-reaching intimidation. This Cabinet is committed to the safety of journalists and human rights defenders worldwide and strongly opposes all forms of unwanted foreign interference. That this intimidation takes place in the Netherlands is unacceptable.”

It reflects another issue in a recent string of incidents that has caused tension between the Netherlands and China. Recently, the Netherlands put export restrictions on the country’s tech sector that make it nearly impossible for ASML to export technologically advanced microchip production equipment to China. State players were also linked to an espionage scheme targeting workers in the Dutch tech sector, and one of the Dutch intelligence agencies said China was also part of a plot to use smartphones to spy on Dutch businesses.

China has also been accused of illegally operating secret police stations in Amsterdam and Rotterdam. Dutch authorities said just one month after the Chinese embassy bomb threat that they are becoming more concerned about increasing threats from both China and Russia, and there is an ever-growing list of politicians, agencies, and government offices banning workers from installing the social media app TikTok on phones used for work. This follows advice from Dutch intelligence agencies concerned about the influence the Chinese State has on ByteDance, the company that owns the app.

In response to the article, the Chinese embassy confirmed they received a bomb threat and reported it to police, a representative told the Volkskrant. “As a diplomatic mission in the Netherlands, the embassy took this threat seriously and passed the bomb threat information to the Dutch police immediately. The Dutch government and police took immediate and professional measures to ensure the security of our embassy. There have been growing attacks and threats against the Chinese embassy recently, including from violent protesters and unknown parcels posted to or thrown in the embassy,” the statement read. “False or not, we have to take each case seriously.”

Reporting by ANP and NL Times

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