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: April 28, 2018

Attack Types: Imprisonment | Prosecution


Region & Country:Eastern Asia | China

New or Ongoing:New Incident

On or about April 28, 2017, Chinese authorities reportedly arrested Zi Su, a retired professor of political science from the Yunnan Provincial Chinese Communist Party School, in connection with an open letter he had published online.

The open letter, titled Proposal for Democratic Direct Elections at the 19th National Congress and Nomination of Mr. Hu Deping as New General Secretary of the Chinese Communist Party, criticized Chinese President Xi Jinping, described his rule as a dictatorship, and called for him to step down. On April 28, 2017, after he published the letter on the Chinese messaging app WeChat, Professor Zi was taken into custody by security officers; on May 11, his family received confirmation that he had been placed in criminal detention. He was formally arrested on June 14, on the charge of ‘incitement to subvert state power’, however, this has since been replaced with the more serious charge of ‘subversion of state power’.

Another retired professor, Zhu Delong formerly of Capital Normal University, was listed on the open letter as “seconding” Professor Zi’s proposal. He was briefly taken into administrative custody. Across China, another five activists have been reportedly detained for expressing support for the open letter; all but one have subsequently been released.

Scholars at Risk is concerned about arbitrary imprisonment and prosecution of scholars in retaliation for non-violent, expressive activity related to professional expertise and protected by internationally recognized human rights standards. State authorities have a responsibility to refrain from arbitrary arrests and prosecution in retaliation for the exercise, by scholars or their supporters, of the internationally recognized rights to freedom of expression and academic freedom, so long as such activity is undertaken peacefully and responsibly. Prosecutions aimed at limiting the right to such expressive activity undermine academic freedom and, in addition to the harm caused to the immediate victims, have a chilling effect on academic freedom and undermine democratic society generally.