On May 21, 2018, it was reported that Zhai Juhong, a professor at the Zhongnan University of Economics and Law, had been removed from her research and teaching position after students reported that she had made remarks that violated Communist Party policy.
Professor Zhai allegedly made comments during class on April 25 about recent political developments, including a constitutional amendment that would allow Chinese President Xi Jinping to serve in that position indefinitely, property rights for state-owned companies, and the National People’s Congress.
Students reportedly told university officials about the comments, prompting disciplinary proceedings against Professor Zhai. On May 21, the university’s Communist Party Committee approved an order to remove Professor Zhai from her research and teaching position and expel her from the Party, allegedly for “breach[ing] guidelines for conduct issued by the Ministry of Education.” It is unknown whether Professor Zhai maintains any status at the university
Scholars at Risk is concerned about the firing of a scholar in apparent retaliation for the peaceful exercise of the right to academic freedom — conduct that is expressly protected under international human rights instrument including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which China is a signatory. State and university authorities have a responsibility not to interfere with academic freedom or expressive activity, so long as that activity is undertaken peacefully and responsibly. Professional retaliation intended to punish or restrict such expressive activity harms academic freedom and related higher education values including university autonomy and social responsibility.