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: May 02, 2018

Attack Types: Imprisonment

Institution(s):Tsinghua University

Region & Country:Eastern Asia | China

New or Ongoing:New Incident

On May 2, 2018, Chinese authorities temporarily detained David Missal, a German graduate student of journalism at Tsinghua University, in an apparent effort to restrict or retaliate against a documentary he was filming for his graduate studies.

Mr. Missal had received a scholarship from the German Academic Exchange Service to pursue graduate studies in China. As part of his studies, Mr. Missal traveled to Wuhan to shoot video footage for a short documentary about the plight of human rights lawyers in China. (State authorities began detaining as many as 300 rights lawyers and activists in July 2015.) Mr. Missal had reportedly been warned against pursuing this topic. At the time of his detention, Mr. Missal was with several rights lawyers, including Lin Qilei, who has campaigned on behalf of detained rights lawyer Wang Quanzhang and imprisoned activist Qin Yongmin. Mr. Missal was filming Lin Qilei and others while they were en route to visit Qin Yongmin.

According to video evidence, a group of police officers stopped Missal and the rights lawyers in the street. The officers asked Missal to come with them and told him to stop filming. They then reportedly detained him and told him to delete his footage. After being held and refusing to delete his footage, Missal was released and told to leave WuhanThree months later, on August 3, Chinese authorities declined to renew the visa of David Missal and forced him to leave the country, apparently in connection with his academic activities.

Scholars at Risk is concerned about the detention of a student in apparent retaliation for academic activity — 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 must refrain from restricting or otherwise interfering in the nonviolent exercise of such rights. Arbitrary detention not only harms the immediate victim, but also undermines academic freedom, freedom of expression, and democratic society generally.