Parliament’s China spying scandal breaks the bond of trust

This week it emerged that a British parliamentary researcher who worked closely with senior MPs, working on UK security issues, had been arrested for espionage on behalf of the Chinese state. While the allegations have been denied, the focus of the coverage this week has been largely on the implications for UK security and the acknowledgement of the threats of Chinese spying on UK institutions.

However, there are some other serious consequences. At Index, we have reported on the long-arm of Chinese repression and their targeting of dissidents abroad. Our Banned by Beijing reports have focused on the influence of the Chinese state in the academic sphere through Confucius Institutes and funding in UK universities. The threat to academic freedom is serious enough.

At Index, we rely on the testimonies of dissidents to expose what is happening in repressive regimes where dictators and tyrants oppress the media and their peoples in order to maintain tight control. We can only achieve this through close relationships based on trust. They have to be convinced that we will do everything we can to keep them safe and that by speaking to us their situation and that of their families will be protected. We take that responsibility very seriously.

Dissidents have to feel that they are safe to discuss their experiences with Parliamentarians and not worry about their reports getting back to any regime, including the Chinese state, they have to be assured that by speaking privately to decision makers they will not be endangering their families remaining in China.

Our Banned by Beijing reports have repeatedly exposed how the CCP has targeted the families of dissidents as a tool to try and coerce people into silence. Privacy and security is vital for many dissidents to feel comfortable explaining their experiences; but for that they need to trust us.

My fear is that this scandal will undermine information gathering as the trust between Parliament and Chinese dissidents will have been broken. And it isn’t just a matter for those of us who have an interest in the repression dished out by the CCP, it is also a matter of huge concern for those of us who want dissidents to feel safe, wherever they come from.

Dissidents who have fled their country to shine a light on repression have left their lives behind. They have made huge sacrifices in order to excise their freedom of speech. They have done it so that their voices can be heard and the tyrant that runs their country can be exposed. Historically the saftest place to do that has been the British Parliament – where MPs have privilege and use the stories of dissidents to challenge the status quo. By undermining this bond of trust those who spy for a despotic regime haven’t just undermine the cause of Chinese dissidents – they have undermined the cause of all dissidents.

That trust must be rebuilt as a matter of urgency.

Contents – Express yourself: Overcoming neurodiversity stereotypes


The Summer 2023 issue of Index looks at neurodiversity, the term coined in the late 1990s to identify and promote the positives of variation in human thinking which has become more widely used in the past few years. Are old stereotypes still rife? Has the perception of neurodiversity improved? If not, was this because of censorship? Using neurodivergent voices, we wanted to know about this in a global context.

The majority of the articles are written by neurodivergent people, as we wanted to put their voices front and centre. Many said they did have more of a voice, awareness had shot up and the word “neurodiversity” empowered and welcomed a growth in onscreen representation. However, at the same time it was clear that conversations around neurodiversity were playing out along society’s current fault-lines and were far from immune.

Up Front

Mind matters, by Jemimah Seinfeld: The term neurodiversity has positively challenged how we approach our minds. Has it done enough?

The Index, by Mark Frary: The latest in free expression news, from an explainer on Sudan to a cha-cha-cha starring Meghan and King Charles.


Bars can't stop a bestseller, by Kaya Genç: Fiction is finding its way out of a Turkish prison, says former presidential hopeful and bestselling writer
Selahattin Demirtaş.

Don't mention femicide, by Chris Havler-Barrett: Murdered women are an inconvenience for Mexico’s president.

This is no joke, by Qian Gong and Jian Xu: The treatment of China’s comedians is no laughing matter.

Silent Disco, by Andrew Mambondiyani: Politicians are purging playlists in Zimbabwe, and musicians are speaking out.

When the Russians came, by Alina Smutko, Taras Ibragimov and Aliona Savchuk: The view from inside occupied Crimea, through the cameras of photographers banned by the Kremlin.

The language of war and peace, by JP O’Malley: Kremlin-declared “Russophobe foreign agent and traitor” Mikhail Shishkin lays out the impossible choices for Russians.

Writer's block, by Stacey Tsui: Hong Kong’s journalists are making themselves heard, thanks to blockchain technology.

The Russians risking it all, by Katie Dancey-Downs: Forced to sing songs and labelled as extremists, anti-war Russians are finding creative ways to take a stand.

The 'truth' is in the tea, by Jemimah Steinfeld: Spilling the tea on a London venue, which found itself in hot water due to a far-right speaker.

Waiting for China's tap on the shoulder, by Chu Yang: However far they travel, there’s no safe haven for journalists and academics who criticise China.

When the old fox walks the tightrope, by Danson Kahyana: An interview with Stella Nyanzi on Uganda’s latest anti-LGBTQ+ law.

Would the media lie to you?, by Ali Latifi: Fake news is flourishing in Afghanistan, in ways people might not expect.

Britain's Holocaust island, by Martin Bright: Confronting Britain’s painful secret, and why we must acknowledge what happened on Nazi-occupied Alderney.

The thorn in Vietnam's civil society side, by Thiện Việt: Thiện Việt: Responding to mass suppression with well-organised disruption.

Special Report: Express yoruself: Overcoming neurodiversity stereotypes

Not a slur, by Nick Ransom: What’s in a word? Exploring representation, and the power of the term “neurodiversity” to divide or unite.

Sit down, shut up, by Katharine P Beals: The speech of autistic non-speakers is being hijacked.

Fake it till you break it, by Morgan Barbour: Social media influencers are putting dissociative identity disorder in the spotlight, but some are accused of faking it.

Weaponising difference, by Simone Dias Marques: Ableist slurs in Brazil are equating neurodivergence with criminality.

Autism on screen is gonna be okay, by Katie Dancey-Downs: The Rain Man days are over. Everything’s Gonna Be Okay star Lillian Carrier digs into autism on screen.

Raising Malaysia's roof, by Francis Clarke: In a comedy club in Malaysia’s capital stand up is where people open up, says comedian Juliana Heng.

Living in the Shadows, by Ashley Gjøvik: When successful camouflage has a lasting impact.

Nigeria's crucible, by Ugonna-Ora Owoh: Between silence and lack of understanding, Nigeria’s neurodiverse are being mistreated.

My autism is not a lie, by Meltem Arikan: An autism diagnosis at 52 liberated a dissident playwright, but there’s no space for her truth in Turkey.


Lived experience, to a point, by Julian Baggini: When it comes to cultural debates, whose expertise carries the most weight?

France: On the road to illiberalism? by Jean-Paul Marthoz: Waving au revoir to the right to criticise.

Monitoring terrorists, gangs - and historians, by Andrew Lownie: The researcher topping the watchlist on his majesty’s secret service.

We are all dissidents, by Ruth Anderson: Calls to disassociate from certain dissidents due to their country of birth are toxic and must be challenged.


Manuscripts don't burn, by Rebecca Ruth Gould: Honouring the writers silenced by execution in Georgia, and unmuzzling their voices.

Obscenely familiar, by Marc Nash: A book arguing for legalised homosexuality is the spark for a fiction rooted in true events.

A truly graphic tale, by Taha Siddiqui and Zofeen T Ebrahim: A new graphic novel lays bare life on Pakistan’s kill list, finding atheism and a blasphemous tattoo.

A censored day? by Kaya Genç: Unravelling the questions that plague the censor, in a new short story from the Turkish author.

Poetry's peacebuilding tentacles, by Natasha Tripney: Literature has proven its powers of peace over the last decade in Kosovo.

Palestine: I still have hope, by Bassem Eid: Turning to Israel and Palestine, where an activist believes the international community is complicit in the conflict.

Report: At what cost? Chinese funding and academic freedom in Europe

European universities have become increasingly international over the last decade, fostering relationships with researchers, institutions, private companies, and students around the world. While academic internationalisation provides many opportunities, it also presents challenges.

“European academia must recognise that vulnerability to authoritarian and illiberal interference is an undeniable reality in the contemporary context of globalised knowledge production,” the European Commission said in a working document published last year. “Risks encountered in this context crystallise as threats to the principles of academic freedom and integrity.”

The Commission didn’t single out threats from any one country, but its document was published amid heightened concerns about interference from China.

This report asks to what extent Chinese money is being used to fund European universities and to what extent is it eroding academic freedom in the process. The report looks at funding from Chinese companies, Chinese international students, and the protections the EU and UK have in place to prevent undue interference. You can download the report here or view it online using the reader below:


What is the Marxist vision of journalism?

It seems I am reminded daily that I am very lucky to live in a democracy. I may not agree with my Government - but I have the right to tell them I don’t. I may not agree with what’s written in a newspaper - but I have the right to tell the world I don’t. I may not support the status quo in terms of what is happening in my community - but I have the right to speak to my neighbours and demand better and demand change.

Those basic rights to challenge the orthodoxy, to challenge my political leaders, to challenge authority is a blessing and one that I value every day, especially when I am exposed to what happens to people who by dint of birth just aren’t afforded the same rights as me.

This week, yet again, we’ve read reports of events in China. Not only has the CCP continued their persecution of political dissidents by taking in Nathan Law’s family for questioning but they’ve also rolled out a new tool for ‘training’ journalists. The new smartphone training programme from the All China Journalists Association seeks to train aspirant and current journalists in the ‘Marxist vision of journalism’. I honestly have no idea as to what that could possibly entail as I’m not sure that the Communist Manifesto issued ideological guidance for the execution of occupational journalism.

However, what we do know is that no good will come from a CCP-sanctioned training programme designed to brainwash aspiring journalists, who live under a despotic regime, into writing acceptable forms of ‘journalism’. To compound the propaganda element of the training programme - journalists will be forced to undertake the programme before they take an exam to test their loyalty to Xi Jingping and if you don’t pass you don’t get to be a journalist.

This isn’t journalism in any way that those of us who live in a freer society would recognise. It’s an effort to ensure the ongoing practice of national propaganda under the pretence of ‘journalism’. It’s the ultimate effort to ensure that no one can speak truth to power and that only one dominant narrative - that of the CCP - is heard. There will be no challenge to the status quo. There will be no free media. There will be no dissent.

The question for global media outlets then becomes how on earth do you cover events in China if journalists on the ground are actually propaganda agents and it’s increasingly difficult for foreign news journalists to operate freely. We covered this earlier this year. But as some dictators become even more fearful of their own people - this is a question which is increasingly going to dominate newsrooms around the world.