On August 3, 2018, it was reported that Chinese authorities had declined to renew the visa of David Missal, a German graduate student of journalism at Tsinghua University, in apparent retaliation for his academic activities.
Mr. Missal was studying journalism at Tsinghua University as part of a two-year scholarship from the Deutscher Akademischer Austauschdienst (DAAD), a German academic exchange organization. For one of his journalism courses at Tsinghua, Mr. Missal produced a documentary film about human rights lawyers in the country (an estimated 300 human rights lawyers and activists have been arrested since July 2015). Mr. Missal carried out this work despite a Tsinghua University official reportedly urging him to avoid politically sensitive topics. On May 2, 2018, Chinese police briefly detained Mr. Missal while he was filming lawyer Lin Qilei en route to visit imprisoned activist and client Qin Yongmin.
On August 3, 2018, the Beijing Entry and Exits Bureau informed Mr. Missal that his application for a visa renewal had been rejected. The Bureau then issued him a temporary visa valid until August 12, and ordered him to leave the country within ten days. In an interview with Radio Free Asia, Missal reported that the Bureau told him his “activities weren’t compatible with a student visa,” but declined to specify what those activities were.
Scholars at Risk is concerned about restrictions on a student’s travel, in apparent retaliation for academic content and conduct — 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 a responsibility to protect academic freedom and not to interfere with academic activity, so long as it is undertaken peacefully and responsibly. In addition to the harm to the immediate victim, travel restrictions have a chilling effect on academic freedom and undermine democratic society generally.