On December 27, 2018, Peking University effectively dissolved an on-campus student Marxist society, removing the society’s leader and several of its members, and installing 32 new student leaders of its choosing in their place, in apparent retaliation for the group’s pro-labor activities.
The student Marxist society had been engaged for several months in pro-labor activism, apparently placing them at loggerheads with the Chinese government and its allies within the university. On December 26, local police reportedly took the society’s president, Qiu Zhanxuan, into custody while he was attempting to commemorate the 125th anniversary of the birth of Mao Zedong. They reportedly imposed an “administrative penalty” against Qiu for “holding up signs, singing, (and using) other methods to disturb the public order at Peking University” during an event a week earlier. Qiu was released the following day (see report).
Around the time of his release, the university announced that it had decided to “restructure” the school’s Marxist society, removing Qiu as its president, and installing 32 student leaders, all of whom were members, or were becoming members, of the Communist Youth League or Communist Party. In its announcement of the decision, the university claimed that Qiu was not qualified to lead the group, and accused the group of repeatedly engaging in activities that violated campus regulations.
Scholars at Risk is concerned about the effective dissolution of a student organization, and the detention of a student leader, in apparent retaliation for the nonviolent exercise of the rights to freedom of expression, freedom of association, and academic freedom — conduct which is explicitly protected under international human right instruments, including the Universal Declaration on Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. In addition to the harm to immediate victims, such incidents have a chilling effect on academic freedom, university autonomy, and undermine democratic society generally. University and state authorities have a responsibility to refrain from arbitrary detentions and other disciplinary action in retaliation for the nonviolent exercise of academic freedom, freedom of association and freedom of expression.