Andrew Phelan was preparing his Melbourne home for the arrival of his elderly, unwell mother when the doorbell rang. Standing next to the man whom Phelan had booked to help assemble a bed were four police officers. They were carrying firearms. They barged into his house and told Phelan — a high-profile China watcher and commentator — that he was under arrest. A Chinese-Australian reporter had contacted the Victoria state police to say she’d received an email from him threatening to rape and kill her. Phelan knew he was innocent; the police, at that stage, did not: His name and correct address were on the email. So they raided his home and took his laptops, phone and an internal drive as evidence. They even followed him to the bathroom.
“It was unbelievable, straight out of the twilight zone,” Phelan told New Lines over the phone. He said that more than six months on from the incident, which occurred on Jan. 25, he could now laugh about it, but it’s clear from his recounting that the experience is still raw — and for good reason.
“It was very intrusive, very confronting. For all intents and purposes they treated me like a criminal,” he said.
Phelan was taken to the police station, fingerprinted and interrogated. It was only after the police had gone through his files and emails that they too realized he was innocent. He was released later that day, and his name cleared.
Or was it? In Phelan’s own words, he suffers from “whistleblower’s anxiety.”
“What if some people might say, ‘Did he actually send that email?’” he asked.
That is precisely the point. Phelan is part of a new and growing club of people whose names and identities are being hijacked and used for nefarious purposes. It’s a disparate group stretching across the globe and contains activists, journalists, academics and lawyers. All are tied together by one common thread — they criticize China. [Continue reading…]