In early October, a video shared on Facebook showing the assault of a Chinese couple in Paris caused an outcry in a community that is increasingly prey to violent muggings. To confront the problem, support groups have emerged on WeChat, a Chinese instant messaging app.

The assault took place on October 1, in an apartment building in the 13th arrondissement of Paris, home to a large Chinese population. It was filmed by a security camera and the recording was posted on Facebook on October 7 by Sécurité pour tous (Security for all), a committee of Chinese organisations in France.

On October 1, 2018, a couple were followed into the lobby of their building in the 13th arrondissement and mugged, as shown in this video posted on Facebook on October 7 by the organisation Sécurité pour tous.

Police in Aubervilliers, a northern suburb of Paris that is also home to a large Chinese population, told The France 24 Observers that Chinese people are seen by attackers as “wealthy” targets who “don’t resist”, and are frequently victims of muggings, burglaries and physical attacks.

“If I see a group of kids who look shady, I cross to the other side of the street”

The Chinese are more and more wary of communities they don’t know. We don’t dare go out at night in neighbourhoods like Quatre-Chemins in Aubervilliers. If I see a group of kids who look shady, I cross over to the other side of the street.

The Chinese are more and more wary of communities they don’t know. We don’t dare go out at night in neighbourhoods like Quatre-Chemins in Aubervilliers. If I see a group of kids who look shady, I cross over to the other side of the street.

Wang says that, because of the attacks, some Chinese people have installed security cameras in their homes. On WeChat, a video shared on October 17 shows a burglary filmed by a camera placed on a desk. A user of the social network says it was recorded the same day in La Courneuve, north of Paris. We have not been able to verify where it was shot.

Screengrab of a video, filmed by a surveillance camera and posted on WeChat, purporting to show a burglary in La Courneuve.

Other videos of violent attacks against the Chinese community have circulated on WeChat groups, which are popular with Chinese people both in China and abroad. The chat groups turn them out by the hour. There is no “wall” like on Facebook and no public messages. The app is similar in many respects to WhatsApp – chat groups can include up to 500 people, often strangers to each other. Users sometimes mask their identity with pseudonyms.

“To protect themselves against attacks, some people are organizing to walk home in groups”

Tamara Lui is the president of the association Chinois de France, Français de Chine (“Chinese of France, French of China”), and one of the spokespeople for Sécurité pour tous, a committee of Asian organisations that aims to highlight these targeted assaults. The collective first came to prominence in September 2016 when it organised a demonstration against anti-Asian violence and racism after the death of Zhang Chaolin, a 49-year-old Chinese tailor who was fatally injured during a robbery in Aubervilliers.

WeChat facilitates communication. News spreads on it faster than on Facebook. Any user can set up a group and some are formed by neighbourhood, which allows you to develop a support system to organise against the violence.

To protect against assaults, for example, those who work nearby have organised to walk home in groups. When someone thinks a place is too dangerous, they inform the group. WeChat is also useful following attacks. In some cases, when an incident has just occurred, the victim raises the alarm so that people in the group nearby can come to their help.

But several of our Observers regret the fact that many images of assaults are posted only on WeChat and rarely on Facebook. The reason, they say, is fear of reprisals. On Facebook, videos are more visible; attackers might recognise themselves and take revenge, say our Observers.

“The police told us they have recognised members of an active gang on one of the videos we shared”

Sun Lay Tan, another spokesperson for Sécurité pour tous, says the problem has enjoyed greater media exposure since footage of the attack on the couple in the 13th arrondissement was posted on Facebook. Active on WeChat, he and other members sometimes serve as intermediaries between the Chinese communities of Paris and police leading investigations on the targeted assaults.

After the video filmed in the 13th arrondissement was shared, the press and the Aubervilliers police contacted us. They recognised members of a gang, active in Seine-Saint-Denis, that only attack people of Asian origin. The video ended up on BFMTV [Editor’s note: France’s biggest rolling news channel]. Three days later, 11 suspects were arrested. For our part, we have asked the victims to press charges. A call for victims was then posted in French on Facebook and Twitter and in Chinese on WeChat.

Speaking to The France 24 Observers, Major Dauge of the special investigations brigade of Aubervilliers police said: “It sometimes happens that complainants come with videos that are an extra element for our investigation. A big obstacle though is the fact that many victims don’t press charges, either out of weariness, fear or because they themselves don’t have papers.

Article written by Alice Hérait (@AliceHerait).