On December 28, 2018, authorities at Peking University used violent force against a group of students who were engaged in a nonviolent protest of the university’s decision to replace the leadership of an on-campus Marxist society.
The protest followed the university’s decision, one day earlier, to remove the society’s president, Qiu Zhanxuan, and to install 32 university-approved leaders, all of whom were allied with the Chinese Communist Party. (See report). For several months prior to this action, university authorities had been in conflict with the Marxist society over labor activism by the latter. Following the university’s decision to replace the society’s leadership, about a dozen students reportedly gathered outside a science building where they held placards and locked arms in nonviolent protest. According to reports, security guards arrived shortly thereafter to disperse the protesters, forcing some of them into the building, pushing others to the ground, and arresting several more.
Scholars at Risk is concerned about violent attacks and detentions of students engaged in nonviolent protest — conduct that is expressly protected under international human rights instruments including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which China is a signatory. State authorities have an obligation to refrain from the use of violent force and detentions to restrict nonviolent expression. In addition to the harm to the immediate victims, such actions undermine freedom of expression, freedom of assembly, and democratic society generally.