By Craig Offman for the Globe and Mail
Even on Canadian soil, critics of China’s human-rights record can face searing personal hostility. It could be the online attacks waged by “50 Cent Army,” the online trolls whom the Chinese government supposedly pay 50 cents of renminbi to insult a writer or subject. In more extreme cases, such as with Miss World Canada Anastasia Lin, secret police will threaten or blackmail family members back home for negative comments made by relatives here.
But the case of Sheng Xue is perhaps the most menacing of them all. One of Canada’s leading democratic-rights advocates, Ms. Sheng, a woman with a regal bearing and sly irony, has long been the target of unusually grotesque attacks.
Her face has been Photoshopped onto lurid escort-service ads that reveal her personal details and then widely distributed. A poison-pen campaign alleged that she embezzled money from the Federation for a Democratic China, the international rights group that she leads. (The FDC investigated and discredited the report.)
In a most surreal twist, a man in a hard hat has recently been standing outside Parliament Hill in inclement weather, carrying a placard alleging Ms. Sheng is a Communist spy.
Ms. Sheng’s ordeal exists in a grey area of free speech where no law seems to apply. While the Mississauga resident is protected by the Charter to express her political opinions, she is vulnerable to forces working in the dark margins who lob allegations with impunity.
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