SAR’s Academic Freedom Monitoring Project investigates and reports attacks on higher education with the aim of raising awareness, generating advocacy, and increasing protection for scholars, students, and academic communities. Learn more.

Date of Incident: March 24, 2017

Attack Types: Travel Restrictions

Institution(s):University of Technology Sydney

Region & Country:Eastern Asia | China

New or Ongoing:New Incident

On March 24, 2017, Chinese officials barred Professor Feng Chongyi, a Chinese national, from flying to Australia, where he is a permanent resident and is a scholar of China studies at the University of Technology, Sydney (UTS). Sources suggest that he was prohibited from traveling outside the country based on national security allegations related to his human rights research.

Professor Feng, whose research focuses on China’s political economy and intellectual development, is a prominent scholar in mainland China and Australia, where he served as the head of UTS’s China studies department for 11 years. He regularly writes for and is quoted in news publications, and has publicly criticized Chinese authorities’ treatment of dissidents, and their attempts to influence China’s overseas populations.

In March 2017, Professor Feng traveled to China to research conditions relating to human rights lawyers in the country, who reportedly suffered widespread repression starting in July 2015. Sources indicate that during his last week in the country, state security officers in Kunming visited Professor Feng and questioned him about his research and the individuals he had been meeting with. On the morning of March 24, while he made his way through a customs checkpoint at Guangzhou Airport, Professor Feng was reportedly barred from boarding his return flight to Australia. The next day, he made a second attempt to leave the country, and learned that he is being denied exit from China on allegations that he is a threat to state security.

As of this report, Professor Feng continues to face questioning from state security officers and has been advised that he only has permission to travel within the country until further notice.

Scholars at Risk is concerned about restrictions on a scholar’s travel apparently to retaliate against or prevent nonviolent academic work. Absent evidence to the contrary, such actions suggest an intent to obstruct the exercise of the rights to academic freedom, freedom of expression, and freedom of association — conduct which is protected under international human rights instruments including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant for Civil and Political Rights. State authorities have a responsibility to protect academic freedom, freedom of expression, and freedom and association, and to refrain from imposing arbitrary restrictions on movement intended to limit these freedoms.  Such actions undermine academic freedom and democratic society generally.

Following advocacy by the Australian government and others, Professor Feng was once again allowed to travel. He returned to Australia on April 2, 2017.