'You guys suck': Target of suspected foreign interference campaign says AFP cut off contact after complaint and tweet (2024)

An Australian citizen and critic of the Chinese government, who the federal police identified as the potential target of a suspected foreign interference campaign, says the agency cut official contact with her after she complained about an alleged assault by its officers and posted on X, "you guys suck".

Journalist and researcher Vicky Xu has been the subject of intense harassment since authoring a report for the Australian Strategic Policy Institute in 2020.

The report accused the Chinese government of facilitating the mass transfer of Uyghurs and other minorities into forced labour camps. She has also been criticised and labelled a "China basher" in Chinese state media.

After a period out of the spotlight, Ms Xu recently resumed speaking and writing publicly with a run of news appearances and a return to social media.

She says she's been receiving death threats daily since returning to the public eye.

On Monday, international media outlet Newsweek published a feature about Ms Xu's experience, mentioning her allegation that the Australian Federal Police (AFP) had used excessive force at a protest outside Parliament House in Canberra, during Chinese Premier Li Qiang's visit to Australia in June.

The article included the response: "The Australian Federal Police declined to comment on that or on the death threats," to which Ms Xu posted on X, saying: "You guys suck @AusFedPolice."

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On Wednesday, just a day later, she said she received an encrypted message from her AFP liaison officer.

"This is a message to advise you that this current line of communication with the AFP will now cease," the message said.

On X, Ms Xu posted a screenshot and wrote: "Three years ago an Australian Federal Police detective sergeant was tasked with looking after my safety. I was told I could reach out to them with any concern 24/7."

"Last year, the police informed me of a foreign interference plot that involved foreign agents looking for my address. I was not allowed to talk to the public or the media about the incident.

"Recently I decided to break my silence and talk to the media about the plot — since it had been 10 months and the investigation didn't seem to be progressing according to the information I was provided.

"Today, I was told my line of communication with the police will now cease. I guess I'm on my own."

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The message goes on to say that the AFP would be in contact with her if a witness statement was needed for the foreign interference investigation.

"Otherwise, for any other information you wish to report, please contact the National Security Hotline on 1800 123 400 or (+61) 1300 123 401 if you are overseas. You can also email at hotline@nationalsecurity.gov.au," the message said, adding she should call 000 in an emergency.

In a statement, an AFP spokesperson said there had been a "misunderstanding of the process" and her liaison officer was going on long-term leave.

"The individual has been advised of her new liaison officer."

But Ms Xu is adamant she still has not received such advice.

She has shown the ABC the text message and a previous example of how she had been introduced to a new liaison officer when her usual contact was on leave.

Ms Xu said she initially thought this was in response to her going public with her experience, but another critic of the Chinese Communist Party, Drew Pavlou — who was also told he was a possible target of a suspected foreign interference plot — has not had any changes made to his contact arrangements.

"He has also broken his silence and he has not been cut off," she said.

"So that just means I got cut off because I said the police sucks."

Mr Pavlou confirmed to the ABC he had not received a similar message from the AFP.

"It looks like she's been targeted because of her complaint and I think that's really wrong," he said.

During his annual threat assessment in February, ASIO director-general Mike Burgess said more Australians were "being targeted for espionage and foreign interference than ever before".

He went on to detail the discovery of a person working for an unspecified foreign government who was targeting a critic of the regime in Australia, with the goal of physically harming them.

"The individual tried to identify his target's home address and bank details, hired a subcontractor to take photos of the house and even asked how much money would be required to get the subcontractor to, quote, 'take severe action' against the dissident," Mr Burgess said.

"Even more recently, a foreign intelligence service tried to find an Australian who would be willing to make a different dissident, quote, 'disappear.'"

AFP 'pursuing every avenue'

'You guys suck': Target of suspected foreign interference campaign says AFP cut off contact after complaint and tweet (1)

In Senate estimates on Thursday, AFP Assistant Commissioner Krissy Barrett said its investigation into the foreign interference plot was still active and the agency was "pursuing every avenue".

"We were very proactive in engaging with those people who were potential targets of violence in relation to this investigation," she said, in response to questions from Liberal senator James Paterson.

"We did allocate a liaison officer to each of those potential victims, so that they had a point of contact directly into the AFP that could support them in a system through the investigation, and that continues."

Senator Paterson told the ABC he was very concerned that it appeared Ms Xu had had her line of contact cut, "because she's an extremely high-priority target for the Chinese Communist Party".

"Australian citizens are deserving of protection of the federal police in all circ*mstances: it doesn't matter who they are, doesn't matter what they've done — if they're a target of a foreign government and foreign interference, then they deserve protection, whether or not they've criticised the police or have other matters standing with the police.

"Vicky Xu is an Australian citizen, who's shown great courage in standing up to the Chinese Communist Party, has shown great insight with her research, her advocacy, her journalism, and she deserves the full protection of the federal police."

Ms Xu and Mr Pavlou both said they were told originally the plot involved someone seeking their address, and this was the first time they'd been made aware the threat was violent.

"In August 2023, the liaison officer from the Australian Federal Police really didn't tell me much, they didn't tell me that I was a target of violence," Ms Xu said.

"And I only learned [on Thursday] from the Senate estimates appearance that I have been a target of violence, and that is extremely shocking.

"Why aren't they sharing that information with me, the victim? Why aren't they giving me the best chance at protecting myself? I do not understand, so I'm feeling quite angry."

Investigation into foreign interference

Ms Xu recently detailed her account of being contacted by the AFP in August 2023.

"The officer told me … 'persons subject of this investigation sought information regarding your whereabouts'," she wrote in the Saturday Paper in April.

"[The officer] told me the investigation was ongoing and I was not allowed to divulge details to the media."

Ms Xu recounted receiving contact from an uncle she hadn't spoken to in some time, asking her to meet him in Perth and offering her money.

'You guys suck': Target of suspected foreign interference campaign says AFP cut off contact after complaint and tweet (2)

She said experts had told her it sounded like an operation aimed at forcibly repatriating her.

"I kept the Australian police updated on this as it took place," Ms Xu said.

"It was unclear what steps they took, if any."

During Senate estimates, Senator Paterson questioned why no arrests had yet been made related to this plot.

"My preference to arrest swiftly is as strong as yours is," Assistant Commissioner Barrett replied.

"But as you would be aware, these matters are very complex and unfortunately, that's not always an option that is available to us.

"What I can say, as well, without going into too much detail, is that we have seen nothing in terms of any current or ongoing threat in relation to those individuals."

'AFP used excessive violence'

In June, Ms Xu lodged an official complaint with the AFP after taking part in an anti-CCP protest in Canberra.

During Chinese Premier Li Qiang's visit, anti-CCP protestors were regularly met with pro-China demonstrations at the locations he was visiting.

In her complaint to the AFP following the incident, Ms Xu said the protest was peaceful. She said that shortly after addressing the gathered crowd, she noticed a friend being surrounded by a group of police, alleging they were "attempting to forcibly confiscate a Chinese Communist flag" that he owned.

"I intervened by placing an arm between [my friend] and the officers, questioning why he was being treated with such intimidation," she said in the complaint, which she has shared with the ABC.

"Immediately, one police officer grabbed my shoulder. I turned around and demanded that he remove his hand.

"The next thing I knew, several police officers surrounded me, and hands were all over me."

Ms Xu goes on to allege that she was "grabbed by the neck".

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She posted video and photos of the incident on X, formerly Twitter, soon after.

"The clash was so intense that my disguise — a wig I wear in public for my safety — was forcibly dislodged," she wrote.

"In this incident, the AFP used excessive violence to strip me of my disguise, causing minor physical injuries, and more importantly — jeopardising my safety and resulting in significant emotional damage."

The AFP spokesperson confirmed the agency received a complaint "on 19 June, 2024 in relation to an allegation of excessive use of force".

"The complaint is currently being assessed in accordance with the AFP Complaints Management Framework," the statement said.

"It would not be appropriate for the AFP to comment further at this time."

'You guys suck': Target of suspected foreign interference campaign says AFP cut off contact after complaint and tweet (2024)
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